Secret Breakers: The Power of Three by H L Dennis

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Secret Breakers: The Power of Three by H L Dennis

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Code breakers worked on the mysterious Voynich Manuscript for years, but no one ever managed to solve it. However, new information has surfaced, and Mr Smithies of the Black Chamber recruits a group of young people to finally crack the hardest code on earth. What he doesn't realise is that by doing so, he has put the three children in deadly peril.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 328 Date: May 2012
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780340999615

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The back cover of this book says it is the 'Da Vinci Code for kids' and that's not a bad description. Secret messages, codes, helter-skelter journeys to well-known places, and baddies lurking round every corner . . . plenty of action and adventure, mixed in with generous dollops of facts and information which will definitely appeal to readers who enjoy having their brains challenged as well as their imaginations. The legend of King Arthur, the house where the famous Enigma code was cracked and a fabulous sea-side building created for a prince are only a few of the clues the three teenagers will encounter on their journey towards the truth.

This first book in the 'Power of Three' series sees the three young people, Brodie, Hunter and Tusia, invited to Bletchley Park Mansion, where skilled code breakers reputedly shortened the last war by two years. Each one of them is descended from a person who worked there, but this time the three teenagers are not directly engaged in fighting a foreign power. As well as their war work, small groups of code breakers from the United States and Britain had worked over several decades on a coded manuscript found in Italy by Wilfred Voynich in 1912, but no one has ever succeeded in deciphering it. Now Mr Smithies has decided to start work on the manuscript again, and so he sends out invitations, in the form of puzzles, to attract children to a Code and Cipher School. Once he has them there, he hopes to sort out the best and brightest of them for the job. To his mind, children are more open to possibilities, less tied down by expectations, and so will have the mental flexibility needed for this fresh approach. And, as he says, the grandchildren of code breakers are the natural choice, because they have secrecy running through their veins.

But there is a mystery concealed beneath the obvious one. The Voynich manuscript has been locked away, no one is allowed to work on it any longer, and there are shadowy characters willing to do anything to stop Smithies and his team – even kill them. And in case anyone is in any doubt that they mean business, we learn that the death of her mother may not have been the accident Brodie has always been led to believe it was.

It is good to see a book which does not divide young people arbitrarily into athletic risk-takers and spotty, bullied geeks. These three may be highly gifted and clever in their different ways, but that does not mean they lack physical courage or determination—in fact, the first time we meet Hunter, he is racing around the school building on a unicycle. They struggle, as any group will do to begin with, to understand what skills each one can contribute, and to get over their antipathies and dislikes, but once they sort themselves into a team they make swift progress on their allotted task. Respect for difference is a clear subtext here, though it is never laboured, and the heart-stopping scenes towards the end make it quite obvious this book is quite definitely a thriller. It will appeal to young readers who enjoy puzzles and codes as well as adventures, and who don't mind having to think a little as they read.

Another series which sends a clever young hero on breath-taking adventures is Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow by James Rollins and the sequel Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx. Highly recommended!

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