Friday, April 02, 2010

Review - The Maze of Bones (The 39 Clues Book 1)

I've been seeing this series of books around for a couple of years now and finally decided to check it out. Included in the books are a set of cards with instructions to register over at There you can be assigned to one of the families and go on your own treasure hunt. I haven't dug into that aspect to know how engaging it is, the nature of the missions, how many cards there are, etc. The concept sounds like a fun addition to the reading.

But, back to the book. Book # 1, The Maze of Bones, is by Rick Riordan of Percy Jackson fame. With that in mind, I went into this read with high expectations. The audience here seems to be about the same as with Percy Jackson, perhaps a little younger. The book was fairly short but still engaging. I kept wanting a little more depth from the book, but then I kept reminding myself that it was intended to be a fun and intelligent adventure aimed (likely) at ~8-12 year olds (not that 8-12 year olds aren't smart…I know some VERY smart kids…but I'm just saying I can't directly compare this to a Dan Brown or Umberto Eco)

As this is the first book in a (presumably) 39 book series, it had to lay a fair amount of groundwork. I suspect subsequent books will hit the ground running. Even then, the initial groundwork was laid out very nicely. I got to know the two main characters. I learned about their family, their quirks, their strengths and weaknesses. Then I was thrown into the "reading of the will" which explained the global treasure hunt.

A lot of details felt sketchy and very high level. I'm sure there are many reasons for this, but the two main ones I thought of are (1) They wanted to keep the page count down for the target audience and so kept some details sparse -and- (2) The author(s) may not know the exact trajectory of the story yet. Since Scholastic is providing an online treasure hunt along with this series and because this series will have so many books, I suspect they're either still working out the final details of the story or they are keeping the details under lock-and-key (or a combination of both).

Even without a lot of depth, I was able to feel engaged in the adventure. I felt the anxiety and sadness of our two main characters as they attended the funeral and began their adventure. I was able to acknowledge the correct answers to the puzzles once solved, but was a little dismayed that the answers seemed to take immense leaps (perhaps I'm not as smart as a 12 year old *grin*).

In the end, I really enjoyed Maze of Bones and look forward to reading future books in the 39 Clues series (I believe they're up to book 7 or 8 now). The general concept is sort of like National Treasure or The Amazing Race or (to pick recent blockbusters) some of Dan Brown's books….but all at a level that is approachable and engaging for kids. I also plan to hop onto the 39Clues website and check out the missions there. I think it would be fun to hop on as a family and work through the treasure hunt together.

So, my recommendation…this is a fun, fresh adventure series for kids. The overall mystery feels engaging enough to keep adults interested, but the writing is definitely meant for a younger audience. So if you're expecting Umberto Eco, steer clear. If you're up for a fun, youthful adventure, then grab a book and join the hunt. It's a quick, fun read you can enjoy with your kids or by yourself.

4 out of 5 stars

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