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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating First Book in an Intriguing Series of Ten . . . You Don't Need Any Game Cards to Have Fun, 3 Jan. 2009
This review is from: The Maze of Bones (The 39 Clues) (Hardcover)
I decided to wait until I had read the second book in the series, One False Note, to review The Maze of Bones. I wanted to see how well the books work without the game cards, Web site, and contest.

Imagine that the Wizard of Oz had been written as a ten part book where you could read what happens to Dorothy and Toto along with clues to help get them home . . . with an opportunity to win a cash prize for solving the clues before anyone else. It would have been a nice publicity stunt, but the pleasure of reading about Dorothy's adventures would have been no less.

The 39 Clues provides a similar opportunity to my imaginary alternative to The Wizard of Oz. The series is a cross between The Amazing Race, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Survivor . . . constructed as a competition for youngsters.

As the book opens, an elderly woman, Grace Cahill, is dying. She instructs her attorney to employ "the alternate will." At her funeral, a handful of the 400 Cahill relatives who attend are invited by ticket to attend a reading of the will. During the reading, each person is given five minutes to choose between taking one million dollars or competing in a contest to solve 39 clues in order to become the heir to the Cahill destiny and become the most powerful people on Earth. They may compete as individuals or as teams. Most people take the money and leave.

Orphans Amy (fourteen) and Dan (eleven) Cahill are pressured by their great Aunt Beatrice (their grandmother Grace's sister) to take the money. She is also their guardian and says she will turn them over to the state to live in foster homes if they don't take the money. The two decide that they want to compete, having a chance to honor their grandmother's faith in them and their parents' memory. Naturally, the siblings form a team, but how will they compete without any money and adults to help them?

Within minutes the competition takes a potentially lethal turn as it becomes obvious that some of the Cahills will stop at nothing to win the competition.

In the rest of the book you'll get to know Amy and Dan better, meet their au pair, Nellie Gomez, and travel to Boston, Philadelphia, and across the Atlantic to Europe. An important American turns out to be important to solving the first clue, and you'll read a lot about that person.

Youngsters will like it that children are the stars of the book (and the contest) with adults playing a supporting role. Parents will be happy that the book contains a lot of interesting historical, biographical, and geographical information in a format that makes learning fun.

The book's main weakness is that it doesn't do much to develop the characters of Amy and Dan before the contest begins. As a result, you'll root for them as underdogs and wish them well . . . but you won't identify with them as closely as if you knew a lot more about them (as Roald Dahl did by introducing the Buckets in detail before launching the golden ticket contest).

The writing is otherwise quite good, and you'll find yourself slipping rather easily into the adventure fantasy (despite many details in the story that don't quite work in real life). I liked the excitement of The Maze of Bones better than the more intellectual focus of One False Note. The two books are rewarding for different reasons.

Don't expect, however, that the writing is the same or that the characters behave in the same way. As with any multiple-author series, there will be shifts from book to book.

To me, the only thing better than a good mystery . . . is a longer good mystery. With the prospect of ten books to keep me entertained, I'm looking forward to reading all ten.

I did look at the game cards and only found two that related to the first story. Those two didn't add much to my understanding of the book. The others seemed to relate to future stories, so they did give me a sense of the future story line. That part was nice.

I haven't tried the online site for playing the games because I'm not interested in the contest, but if that is something you enjoy, please do take a look.

I'm sure the focus will shift more towards the game in 2010 as the book series ends. But until then, you can just have lots of fun with the books!

If you like this story, I also encourage you to ask your relatives about your family's history. You might find that your relatives are connected to some pretty famous events and places. Wouldn't that be fun?
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Donald Mitchell
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