The 39 Clues is the first series I've read that was written by a variety of authors. I wasn't sure how well that would work, but as the series ends, I can say that, IMHO, the books blended together well, creating a cohesive and very entertaining whole. The multi-author method also exposed me to authors I hadn't read before, including Margaret Peterson Haddix whose contribution, Into the Gauntlet, turned out to be my favorite book in the series.
As Into the Gauntlet begins, Dan & Amy Cahill, along with their au pair Nellie Gomez (who has been declared an honorary Madrigal) arrive in London, still reeling from the events of Storm Warning. Not only are they exhausted, but they're feeling defeated and unable to cope with the news that they are expected to unite the warring branches of the Cahill family. But there's no time to rest and regroup. Within minutes, the coded note waiting for them in their room is stolen by a taunting monkey and the clue hunt - revolving this time out around William Shakespeare - begins again.
Into the Gauntlet continues the series standard of keeping the chapters short and the action non-stop. The POV changed frequently, something I thought worked particularly well in this book because it gave us the opportunity to listen in as each of the characters started to make decisions about the direction they wanted their own life to take. I won't reveal any spoilers except to say that most of the characters make decisions that seem relatively wise.
Though I thought there were a few bumps in the road over the course of the series, I feel it ends strongly and, overall, there were a lot of things I liked. Readers caught glimpses of exotic locales and learned a bit about some of the most influential people in history. As protagonists, Dan & Amy Cahill faced danger, defeat and malice and continually struggled with knowing who to trust. But they kept trying and, even though frequently annoyed with one another, they supported each other and, along with Nellie, they hung together as a family. The books also have a lot of good messages concerning the corrupting power of greed, the futility and self-harm of hating others, the value of working together as well as the importance of valuing human life. Those messages were presented without preachiness and were mixed with adventure and humor.
All in all, I think the 39 Clues is a worthy addition to family libraries and is a great series for parents or grandparents to read aloud with family members.
For those sad to see the series ending, there is more to look forward to:
* A bonus book by Rick Riordan, who wrote the first book in the series and the main story arc, is due in stores on October 26th. Called The Black Book of Buried Secrets, it promises to reveal more secrets about the Cahill family.
* A 39 Clues film, reportedly to be directed by Steven Spielberg, who bought the film rights in 2008, is scheduled to be released in late 2011.
* There are hints at the end of Into the Gauntlet that there may be more adventures in the future for Dan and Amy. Apparently, another mysterious family, more evil than the worst of the Cahills, have always been interested in acquiring Cahill powers...
I just wanted to add that I really liked the whole 39 Clues concept - the online, interactive stuff, the cards to collect etc. - even though I didn't participate in anything but the reading. Some people might view this concept as a money-grubbing marketing ploy, but I preferred to look at it as a creative way to involve kids and attempt to draw them further into the adventure of reading. I have no idea if Scholastic feels the concept has been successful, but regardless, I salute them for giving it a try and hope to see more publishers offering innovation interactive reading opportunities for kids in the future.