The writing style is pretty consistent, even if it’s written by a different author than the first book.
This series is not a happy one. It’s a kid series, but I find it to be more serious than most. The first book had some dark moments, but it got worse with the second. There were a lot more dark undertones. Dan’s internal struggle was more present. Often he would seem to be depressed and contemplative (see quotes section). There is something separating him from Amy- and I get the feeling it will last for quite a while. He’s on his own mission- to assemble the ingredients for the serum. The 39 clues.
The historical aspect, as usual, is spot on and interesting. It was definitely well-researched. The mysteries were a riddle to figure out (I definitely couldn’t predict it), but once they did, obtaining the objects for Vesper One seemed easy.
The alliances between the Cahills and the other families are very much tested in this series. The kids seem to work together well enough (mostly) but the adults have issues of their own. And while the kids work on their own for the mystery-solving, most of the other issues (such as transportation and hotels) seem to be taken care of by other adults. But no one is safe, and people aren’t who they appear to be. Usually in a kids’ series, there is some measure of safety. But this series pulls out all the stops. No one is safe.
Relationships in general seem to be a big theme as well. Amy’s relationship with Dan is uneasy. Dan’s and Atticus’ friendship is tested. Ian’s relationship with everyone else is questioned (more so in the 3rd book). And Amy’s relationship with Jake is really not good.
In fact, Jake was really hard to stand in this book. Well, there’s always got to be one hot-but-difficult guy, hasn’t there? But he was really awful. Several times I wanted to shake him and say, “The Cahills are the victims here! Don’t you understand that they were blackmailed? They may steal, but it’s so people don’t die!” It was really hard for me to be okay with him because he didn’t seem to realize what was the situation. He was pretty insufferable. And nothing really seemed to happen to change his mind, which was sad. The Cahills might prove themselves to him, but then something would follow shortly after that would make him doubt them again.
Amy’s and Dan’s doubts also were important. Amy doubted she could ever be useful and really prove herself to her family. She is head of her family now, but she lacks some skills that others have. And Dan…Dan seems to be depressed. He thinks it’s all hopeless, and the only way to fix everything is to become OP, by making the serum. Their confidence is not very high.
And for the hostages…well, tensions are running high. It’s to be expected, being trapped together for so long. They start to get annoyed with each other. It’s not looking good.
And then Dan starts to question his father…whether he really died all those years ago, and then….a startling discovery that may change everything. I hate to be dramatic in a review. But I’m not going to spoil it. I’m just saying, I’m curious where it’s going to go.
I found a few quotes that illustrated some of the darker undertones, mainly Dan’s depression.
“Amy should have felt comforted. But there was something about Dan’s confidence…what was it?
It wasn’t confidence. It was more like desperation.” (page 107)
“‘We’re breathing in death,’ he murmured. ‘Every day.’ He half turned to Amy. ‘Everybody dies. Why do we run away so hard and so fast, when it’s always there?’
‘We run away hard and fast because we don’t want to die,’ Amy said.
Dan seemed mesmerized by the black holes in the skull. Amy was afraid of his expression.
Dan shook his head. ‘It all seems so…futile.’ […]
‘It doesn’t seem that way to me,’ she said. She kept her voice quiet. ‘It seems to me that we’re doing what all these people did. Just…trying to live in the best way we can. Protecting the people we love. We give it everything we have. Just like these people probably did.'” (page 127-128) See? This is pretty heavy stuff for a kid’s book.