Book Series Review: The 39 Clues

The 39 Clues Series, by Various

The 39 Clues series by Various

Published by Scholastic Inc. on January 1, 2008 (book 1)

Genre(s): fiction, adventure, middle grade, mystery, suspense

Format & Length: audiobooks, varies

Source: library

Find on Goodreads

Purchase at AmazonBarnes & Noble

Minutes before she died Grace Cahill changed her will, leaving her decendants an impossible decision: You have a choice – one million dollars or a clue.

Grace is the last matriarch of the Cahills, the world’s most powerful family. Everyone from Napoleon to Houdini is related to the Cahills, yet the source of the family power is lost. 39 clues hidden around the world will reveal the family’s secret, but no one has been able to assemble them. Now the clues race is on, and young Amy and Dan must decide what’s important: hunting clues or uncovering what REALLY happened to their parents.

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I found this series over two years ago when I was browsing for an audiobook to listen to through my library’s e-catalog and The Maze of Bones was featured. The short description was all it took for me to be intrigued. A clue hunt around the world to find some kind of hidden treasure? Count me in!

It took me four months to listen to the first nine books, and then it all came to a halt when my library somehow did not have the last two books! Two years later, my need for closure kicking in, I checked again. Lo and behold, by now they were available.

There wasn’t much I didn’t like about this series. Mixed in with the (quite fantastical) adventures Amy and Dan find was a focus on history and learning. Then there is the exploration of family dynamics, not only between Amy and Dan themselves, but also their extended family. Each book, and the series as a whole, was fast paced and easy to follow. Most of the audiobook lengths came in at or under 5 hours, with the longest being Into the Gauntlet (book 10), at just over 7 hours. And David Pittu’s narration was spot on, making for an immersive experience.

My biggest gripe is how formulaic the middle books get. Even with different authors writing each book, they all seemed to follow the same recipe:
1 – Amy and Dan find a clue and decipher it.
2 – Travel to the place where they believe the next clue will be.
3 – Get trapped by competing family members.
4 – Help comes and saves the day!
This is not necessarily a bad formula. But with eight books in a row following it, it started to get a bit stale. Maybe a younger reader would disagree. But I tend to think they could easily follow just as well if things were mixed up a bit more.

Book ten, Into the Gauntlet, somewhat follows this formula but also breaks away from it as it concludes the original mystery and adventure posed in book one. Then we have the eleventh book, Vespers Rising, which almost serves as an epilogue and can practically be read as a standalone. Essentially it wrapped everything up by starting all the way back at the beginning of the family history, and also sets up the first of several spinoff series, Cahills vs. Vespers. For me, this was one of the best, if not the best, book from The 39 Clues series.

Recommended to middle grade readers and also anyone who enjoys a fun adventure story. If the opportunity presents itself, I urge you to try it in audiobook.


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