A King’s Ransom by Jude Watson

Posted July 21, 2014 in Book Review / 0 Comments

A King’s Ransom by Jude WatsonA King's Ransom by Jude Watson
Series: The 39 Clues: Cahills vs. Vespers #2
Also in this series: The Medusa Plot, The Dead of Night, Shatterproof, Trust No One, Day of Doom
Published by Scholastic Press on December 6th 2011
Genres: Adventure, Middle Grade, Mystery
Pages: 192
Format: Hardcover
Source: Gift
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four-stars

Amy and Dan are in a race for their lives . . . and the enemy may be even closer than they think.

When seven members of their family were kidnapped by a sinister organization known as the Vespers, thirteen-year-old Dan Cahill and his older sister, Amy, vowed they'd stop at nothing to bring the hostages home. But then the ransom comes in and the Vespers demand the impossible. Amy and Dan have just days to track down and steal an ancient map. The only catch? No one has seen the map for half a century.

Now Amy and Dan are on a desperate search that will lead them to the Nazis, spies, a mad king and some of history's dirtiest secrets. It's the race of their lives . . . and one misstep will mean certain death for the hostages.

Main Points
Writing Style:
The writing style is pretty consistent, even if it’s written by a different author than the first book.
Plot:
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.
Quotes:
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.
Good vs. Bad
Good:
  • plot
  • characters
  • writing
  • pacing
  • themes
  • history
  • mystery
Less than perfect:
  • heavy subject matter? I’m not really sure. I mean I like it, but would I want 10 or 12-year-olds reading this? Maybe not.
Bottom Line
This is a great addition to the series. The mysteries continue, along with other issues like relationships and death and morality. It’s a little dark for a kid’s series. But the writing is great, the characters are well done, and it’s very well-researched. Will I continue the series? For sure. Would I recommend this to others? Maybe, but people more my age than middle grade.

About Jude Watson

Jude Watson is a novelist for young readers. She now lives in New York. She is probably best known for her Star Wars works, which are usually set in the prequel era and involve the Jedi. She also helped write the Star Wars: Science Adventures series with K. D. Burkett.

Her non-Star Wars works include the Brides of Wildcat County series and the novel Premonitions and its sequel Disappearance. She has also written a Star Trek series with K.D. Burkett.

Rating
Plot
four-stars
Characters
four-stars
Writing
four-half-stars
Setting
five-stars
Cover
three-half-stars
Overall: four-stars

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