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Literature / Secret Series

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I can't keep a secret. Never could...

The Secret Series is a series by Pseudonymous Bosch (real name Raphael Simon), a mysterious Lemony Narrator, about two children who are not named Cass and Max-Ernest. Cass is a survivalist, while Max-Ernest has a condition (though no one knows quite what his condition is). One day, they are swept into the dangerous world of the Terces Society and the Midnight Sun...and the Secret.

There are five books in the series:

  • The Name of This Book is Secret (2007)
  • If You're Reading This, it's Too Late (2008)
  • This Book is Not Good for You (2009)
  • This Isn't What it Looks Like (2010)
  • You Have to Stop This (2011)

In 2013, the series was followed by Write This Book: A Do-It-Yourself Mystery. While not directly a part of the Secret Series, it directly references several characters and situations from it.

In 2014, a followup trilogy began with Bad Magic. This title focuses on a new protagonist named Clay (originally Paul-Clay) who is sent to a strange camp for wayward youths after being falsely accused of an act of vandalism. Clay is the younger brother of Max-Ernest, who at the start of the novel has been missing for over two years, having disappeared leaving only a mysterious note telling his family not to worry.

  • Bad Magic (2014)
  • Bad Luck (originally titled Bad Kids) (February 2016)
  • Bad News (March 2017)

Tropes featured in this series:

  • Ambiguously Gay: Grandpa Larry and Grandpa Wayne are never outright stated to be a couple. Just two guys who live together since a long time ago, bicker amongst themselves even though they clearly care a lot for each other and have a substitute daughter and granddaughter and substitute grandson, in the fourth book together.
  • Artistic License – Linguistics: In the third book, Barcelona native Señor Hugo's "lisping Spanish accent" is said to be indicative of his Catalonian origins. Not only are Catalan and Castilian completely different languages, decidedly refuting the former's designation as a mere accent, the voiceless dental fricative /θ/ does not even exist in the Valencian and Balearic varieties, let alone Hugo's native one, making the assertion that said natives pronounce the name of their hometown "Barthelona" incorrect.
  • Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad: In Bad Magic, when Clay says a bad word when he is very young that he picked up from somewhere, Max-Ernest explains to him that it's a bad word and Clay wonders why it's bad. Max-Ernest explains that bad words are words that hurt people's feelings. From that day, however, they develop a sort of code, in which between them, "bad word" means "magic word."
  • The Beautiful Elite: The Midnight Sun usually has unnatural beauty, which they sometimes exploit in their evil schemes.
  • Big Eater:
    • The Homunculus in the second book. Half of his dialogue consists of "I'm hungry!"
    • The Lemony Narrator is this when it comes to chocolate.
  • Butt-Monkey: Max-Ernest. His "best friends" constantly make fun of him, his parents hate each other to the point of ignoring each other, and he suffers many Amusing Injuries. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Cassandra Truth: Played with. Cass is a survivalist that always predicts disasters, but they rarely come true.
  • Catchphrase: "How 'bout that?" for Max-Ernest.
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: Max-Ernest. The only times that he's funny in-universe is when he isn't trying to be.
  • Creepy High-Pitched Voice: The villainous Ms. Mauvais is frequently described as having a high, tinkling voice like glass. This is fitting because she puts on a front of being a cheerful, bubbly socialite.
  • Does Not Like Spam: Cass absolutely hates raisins, and her survival mix recipe ends with, "no raisins, ever!" When her mother grounds her in the second book, she promises to put raisins in instead of chocolate chips after her mother forbids her from having chocolate.
  • Dog Walks You: Bad News, from The Bad Books Sequel Series, has an intro in which a Dragon Tamer talks about the many irritating questions asked of him, the first of which is almost always "What is it like to ride a dragon—is it like riding a horse?" His response is that "You really want to know what riding a dragon is like? First of all, you don't ride a dragon; the dragon rides you. As soon as you climb onto a dragon's back, you let go of the idea that you are in control. The dragon is the pilot; you are a passenger—no, a barely tolerated stowaway."
  • Divorce Assets Conflict: Max-Earnest's parents split their house in half when they divorced.
    Things had improved slightly last year when his parents had—literally—split their house down the middle, his father moving his half-house across the street.
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: Although his parents are well-intentioned, poor Max-Ernest has an unusual childhood to say the least. Both of his parents are absolutely certain that he or she is right, and the other is well-intentioned, but misguided. When Max-Ernest was born, they argued for several days about whether to name him "Max" or "Ernest". This argument lasted so long that the nurse threatened to put him up for adoption, name or no name. They then compromised, and then divorced. But they both still live in the same house, since the one thing they can agree on is that every child should be raised by both his parents. So they split the house in half and pretend the other half doesn't exist.
  • Lemony Narrator: This is heavily, heavily present in all of the books of the original Secret Series. The style is some ways very similar to A Series of Unfortunate Events, though in many ways different. The narrator is, nevertheless, very obtrusive. This trope is still present but heavily downplayed in The Bad Books, to the relief of some reviewers who felt it was used to the point of driving the reader to distraction in the original series.
  • MacGuffin: Every book centers around either finding some ancient artifact, or keeping it away from the Midnight Sun.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Cass is named after the concept of Cassandra Truth because she's a paranoid survivalist who sees danger everywhere.
    • Max-Ernest or should we say M-E?. The author says in Write This Book that it also reflects how Max-Ernest tries to be funny, but strikes people off as highly serious. In other words, he is earnest to the max.
    • Ms. Mauvais' name translates from French literally as "Ms. Bad" or "Ms. Evil".
  • Narrator All Along: This Isn't What It Looks Like suggests that Max-Ernest is actually Pseudonymous Bosch when he was young. Confirmed in the epilogue of You Have to Stop This.
  • Nepharious Pharaoh: Invoked. Lord Pharaoh chose "pharaoh" as part of his name because his massive ego leads him to see himself as a great ruler. He he has an evil, single-minded dedication to living forever and quite possibly taking over the world someday.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: This Book Is Not Good For You could've been done differently if Cass didn't open her big mouth regarding the Tuning Fork.
  • Punny Name: In the Bad Books Sequel Series, Clay has a llama that he speaks to in Spanish as a pet of sorts, and which is named Como C. Llama. ("¿Como se llama?" is Spanish for "What is your name?")
  • Red Right Hand: All of the members of the Midnight Sun have gnarled, ancient hands that they hide under gloves. This is fitting for their manipulative and sinister nature.
  • The Reveal: The Secret itself, surprisingly, at the end of You Have to Stop This. While it may seem to be just a joke at first "Why did the ibis cross the road? To get to the other side.", it's established that "the other side" is some otherworldly realm that dragons and the dead inhabit.
  • Reverse Cerebus Syndrome: The first book is very morbid in tone compared to the later books. It dealt with a mysterious death, a brain removal attempt by the villains, and much harsher and less "contemporary" dialogue, while the later books balance out the stakes with quirky, often goofy humor, from both the series' universe and its Lemony Narrator.
  • Shout-Out: The name "Pseudonymous Bosch" shouts out Hieronymus Bosch, a Dutch renaissance painter known for his depictions of Hell.
  • Super-Senses: Cass has excellent hearing. And Pseudonymous Bosch claims to have perfect vision.
  • Theme Naming: Max-Ernest's name is a reference to the artist Max Ernst, and his younger brother Paul-Clay's name is a reference to artist Paul Klee.
  • This Is a Work of Fiction:
    • In You Have to Stop This, the final book of the series, the disclaimer reads "The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. Of course, you know what they say about good intentions...."
    • Write This Book: A Do-It-Yourself Mystery, a tie-in to the series, has a normal version of the disclaimer. There is, however, a label before it reading "Traditional (and absolutely completely totally sincere) disclaimer."
    • Bad Luck, which is the second title of the Sequel Series, again has a normal version of the disclaimer. Underneath it, however, it says "Blah, blah, blah..."
    • Bad News, the final book of the sequel series, has a normal version of the disclaimer, but next to it in italics: "Any resemblance to actual dragons is a different story—a story that the author of this book would very much like to hear." Additionally, on the copyright page, it has "Hachette Book Group supports the right to free expression and value of copyright. The purpose of copyright is to encourage writers and artists to produce creative works that enrich our culture. Incidentally, that is also the purpose of chocolate."
  • Unusual Chapter Numbers: If You're Reading This, it's Too Late has the chapters in reverse order (starting with Chapter 34 and ending with Chapter 1) because the author hopes the book (and the secrets contained within) will explode like the countdown timer on a bomb. In This Isn't What It Looks Like there are normal chapters, but also negative chapters for Cass and what she's doing in the past.

Alternative Title(s): The Name Of This Book Is Secret