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Spy School novels have a formula. We have Ben Ripley, a gifted kid who achieves excellent results by not being stupid, Ben's friends who are well-intentioned and sometimes competent, and the ever-expanding dysfunctional Hale family made up of the World's worst spies, who believe themselves to be the World's best spies, including toothsome teen sisters Erica and Trixie Hale. Gibbs picks a setting (frequently this is the site of a vacation or a sight-seeing visit he made), then makes up a silly James Bond-esque plot to play out there, with jokes! The main questions one asks on picking up a new Spy School book are "Where will it happen?" and "How will character relationships change?" At the end of the previous novel (Spy School at Sea) Erica and Ben became boyfriend and girlfriend, so we were expecting to see that play out in book 10. (And of course I'm not going to tell you what happens with that.)
To me, however, the big question was what would happen to the formula. It seemed to be getting a bit tired. Book 8, Spy School Revolution felt decidedly "Meh..." to me. Spy School at Sea recaptured a little of the magic, but still was not as funny as the first book. Now, there was no pressing need to change the formula. Spy School has an army of devoted followers (I am one -- I have read every one of the books) and new releases regularly rack up 4.8-star average ratings on Amazon. Why not continue to give the readers what they so evidently want? Why not milk this cow?
Well, score one for artistic integrity! Apparently Gibbs realized he was getting into a rut and took action to boost himself out of it. He doesn't say exactly this, but in an Author's Note at the end he writes
"... in the first nine Spy School books, the evil plots of the bad guys have all been riffs on the sort of ridiculous, over-the-top evil schemes of James Bond villains ... But when the time came to think about book ten, I realized that there were actual, real-world issues that would make for good plots as well."
So in chapter one he blows everything up (literally). The Spy School novels will never be the same again. (At least I hope not, because this is SO much better.) Now, to allay the fears of avid Spy School fans, I hasten to add that Project X is still a Spy School novel. It still stars Ben and his friends and the Hale family, along with comically inept nemesis Murray Hill.
The result is a novel that is simultaneously much more serious and much funnier than previous Spy School novels. It is more serious because of those real-world issues he alludes to, which, to avoid spoilers, I will not identify. It is funnier because the jokes are more frequent and better. I don't know why that is, but I speculate that Gibbs was enthusiastic about this new direction, and inspired to be funnier.
As Stuart Gibbs seeks out to lengthen the Spy School series, he does not fail to include a humor, action, and romance harmony that is the core of the whole series. Although Erica and Ben are dating in this latest release, it isn’t obsessively the main topic of the novel (which some authors like it to take over the book) and creates more room for other legit qualities you find in many masterpieces. Gibbs never disappoints when it comes to humor, and you can see that all throughout the series he inserts it at exactly the right time for a hilarious joke. SPOILER ALERT: it was fun to see Erica’s grandmother hop into the spotlight, as she delivered a extra layer of humor, and even more so when she was around Cyrus. Conspiracy theories play a big part in this book, which Gibbs did well to identify and point out how crazy and popular some ideas are online sometimes. All together this is an excellent read and adds on another adventure to the Spy School series.
The ten-book series of Spy School has been a delightful series to read at bedtime with my 12- & 14-year-old boys. The series has just the right amount of action, history, facts, cliff hangers, etc. to keep them interested - prolonging my "daddy time" with them just a few more years! Thank you, Stuart Gibbs, for both Spy School and Charlie Thorne!
We've read all of the spot school series, p and while I must admit, I wish that we could stop revisiting the same villains, my daughter really connects to it and loves it. We read a chapter together every night and it helps her look forward to bed time. Stuart Gibbs for the win!
Loved this book just like the last and have to say, I’m surprised at the development with Erica and also Ben’s characters. Not to mention the chat and flamethrower was hilarious. I can’t wait for more. Also love the “should you choose to accept” option 2 drop at the end. Can’t wait for the next book ❤️
I don’t know how he does it but for some reason I can’t find anything too bad about his books, like I don’t know what he does because for someone reason the book is always good. In other words, great book I loved it