Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Review: Secret Breakers - The Power of Three by H.L. Dennis

Imagine the chance to solve the Voynich Manuscript - a puzzle that has truly defeated adults for centuries.

It's an ancient manuscript no one has ever been able to decipher. And there are Rules that say it is forbidden to even try to solve it.

A secret hidden for centuries.

But Brodie Bray likes a challenge, and when she receives a coded message through the post her life changes for ever. She's chosen for a secret team working to crack this most complicated code in the world to uncover the secret it hides.

But it's a code that has driven people mad trying to solve it.

Together with her new friends, Brodie must break the rules to break the code, at every turn facing terrible danger. For someone is watching them - and will even kill to stop them.

I have occasionally moaned about the relative lack of quest style thrillers for younger readers, when there are so many being published for adults. Back in February I posted a review of the hugely enjoyable The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, a quest thriller for young adults that focused on the infamous Voynich Manuscript. Now, courtesy of writer H.L. Dennis, the 9+ age group have their very own Voynich Manuscript story, a book the publishers are touting as 'The Da Vinci Code for kids'.

The Power of Three is the first book in the new Secret Breakers series published by Hodder. The solution to the secrets behind the mysterious Voynich Manuscript, aka MS 408, has evaded experts for decades, to the point where many were sent over the edge in their obsession to crack it. As such, it was locked away with a government ban on anyone working on it again. Now Mr Smithies, a member of the British Black Chamber, a secret organisation formed to find out secrets and crack codes, has got his hands on a new piece of information, and he goes behind the backs of his superiors to create a brand new team of code breakers, and this time they are kids, all of them descendants of previous members of the Black Chamber.

Brodie Bray is the first of these young people that we are introduced to, as she receives a cryptic invitation that she finds more than a little sinister. The invitation leads to her solving another clue that leads to her journeying to Bletchley Park, home of the WWII code breakers. Here she meets Hunter and Tusia, two other gifted young people, and a small group of Black Chamber has-beens who are to become their tutors in the arts of code breaking. Soon the trio are making head way with the first clue to the Voynich Manuscript, work that could lead to them risking their lives to solve the mystery.

Despite the popularity of books by the likes of Darren Shan and Geoff Kinney, kids still love mystery stories. The popularity of the Adventure Island and Laura Marlin Mysteries books are testament to this, and I think the 9+ age group will also love the Secret Breakers. The three children have been chosen for their intellectual gifts, but they are certainly not your stereotypical geeks. Throughout the story they are tested physically as well as mentally, and they also have to demonstrate courage and resilience. These kids are great role models for mystery loving readers, who I am sure will take great delight in following their adventures as they attempt to solve each clue/code that comes their way.

I think my only criticism of the book was the amount of unnecessary foreshadowing that is included in the plot. It is something I have started to notice occurring more often in children's and YA books over the past couple of years, and I think that editors are as much to blame as authors. There were a number of instances where Ms Dennis included a short scene, outside of the flow of the main plot, seemingly only to add more tension to the overall story. To me this seemed a little to obvious, and a little irritating. However, this is one of the moments where I have to remind myself that I am reviewing a book written for 9+ children, who really will not care at all about this. It is only a minor gripe on my part, but I had to get it off my chest.

I do not know how many books are planned in this series, but the sequel, Orphan of the Flames, is scheduled to be released in October 2012. H.L. Dennis has won herself a new fan here and I am very much looking forward to seeing where she takes her young heroes next, as the ending of The Power of Three, although not being a cliff hanger, has left me very much intrigued. My thanks go to the lovely people at Hodder for sending me a copy to review.

be just as eager as I am to read the next instalment once they get to the end of this first book  

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