4 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
This is a great middle school read with a fun cast of characters and a nicely balanced adventure/good vs. evil story line. It doesn’t have quite the charm of the first book (often a problem with sequels) and some of the characters seem to be going through some growing pains, not all of which are fun to read about. Most of the book I would have rated as a 4.5/5-star read, but some end-of-book shenanigans (that are somehow less believable than the rest of the genius-kids-against-mad-evil-scientist set-up, left me feeling disappointed, thus lowering the rating to 4. Still a worthy read, still going to read the rest of the series, but the first book was definitely more balanced than this one.
In Greater Detail:
The basic premise in this book is the same as the first one. We have four genius/super-talented kids come together to try to save the world/save their friends by solving riddles, working together and out-tricking the menacing (or sometimes just slightly incompetent) adults around them. This time, they must band together to save their former mentor (who recruited and trained them in book #1), who has been kidnapped:
1. Reynie remains our main protagonist. He’s clever and smart, but also the heart and soul of the team as he has the steadiest nerves and is the most connected to the emotions of others. His personal journey in book #2 is that he’s become increasingly mistrustful of those around him… and must now be reminded that people still can be good.
2. Kate is still our acrobatic/fighter/daughter of a spy who was raised in a circus and carries a bucket of things that can see her through most situations. She has less “development” in this book, but her relationship with her newly-rediscovered father is a source of tension because of the trouble they both tend to get into.
3. Sticky is our disconnected-photographic-memory-genius kid who can’t always apply this knowledge and is often too busy trying to show off rather than actually helping. His new tendencies (constantly craving approval) are probably amongst the most annoying of the “growing pains” section of this book.
4. Constance probably goes through the most welcome change in this novel, as she transitions from being almost unbearably annoying and contrary (all throughout the entire first book) to tolerably cranky and you know, having actual feelings and emotions she’s trying to deal with. The reveal of her age (which comes at the end of book #1) also helps to ameliorate some of our annoyance.
The beginning part of the book spends a little too much time on recall/recounting the events of the first book, and there are some minor pacing issues throughout. Still, overall, this is a great, fun read. If I had not found one of the final twists so unbearably annoying, I would have given this 4.5/5 stars.
More Major Spoilers Below:
The thing that I found ridiculously annoying is that one of our “heroes” manipulates one of the more simple-minded villains (S.Q., who was introduced in the first novel and who’s more of a lackey than an actual villain). Mr. Benedict has gotten S.Q. to trust him throughout the time of his captivity and manipulates S.Q. into releasing them. Not only did I find this a not-well-thought-out-twist/resolution, it was also very annoying to me that he takes advantage of the trust of a young boy. I’m almost certain that this is set-up on purpose and will have repercussions in the third novel, but I found both the execution and the original thought behind this very annoying/upsetting and am thus making this a 4-star (still enjoyable) as opposed to a 5-star (nearly perfect) read.