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Literature / Spy School

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The first book’s cover

A Spy-Comedy series by Stuart Gibbs (also the author of the Fun Jungle series, Bruce Wayne: Not Super, Charlie Thorne, and the Moon Base Alpha trilogy). 12 year-old Ben Ripley finds his life turned upside down when he is abruptly secreted for a secret CIA training school. Once there, it quickly becomes clear that his presence is being used to try and flush out The Mole of a secret Spectre-esque organization, SPYDER. Due to a complicated series of events, Ben ends up the hero of the hour, and gets dragged into adventure after adventure. The series consists of:

1. Spy School

2. Spy Camp

3. Evil Spy School

4. Spy Ski School

5. Spy School Secret Service

6. Spy School Goes South

7. Spy School British Invasion

8. Spy School Revolution

9. Spy School at Sea

10. Spy School Project X

11. Spy School Goes North

Beginning in 2022, Gibbs has also began releasing graphic novel adaptations of each book.

This work contains examples of:

  • The Ace: Erica, the schools best student, and to a lesser extent, Jawa as well.
  • Action Girl: Erica, Catherine, and Zoe can all beat up most of the male characters without trying and only seem to sometimes have difficultly against Made of Iron villains like Dane Brammage, Dark Action Girl Ashley Sparks, and Russian spy family scion Svetlana.
  • Action Insurance Gag: Kind of. It's eventually revealed that SPYDER insures their Evil Plan's in the event of failure, although, by the events of the 6th book they've been operating at such a loss lately that none of these companies will touch them anymore.
  • Affably Evil: Many of the villains, most notably Murray, who can get pretty mad at Ben and willing to see him dead, but would also genuinely like it if Ben defected to their side.
  • Ambiguously Related: Mr. E's headquarters contains a post-it note saying to wish someone named Tina a happy birthday. It's possible (although unconfirmed) that this is referring to Tina Cuevo, the RA, from the first two books, but her being a SPYDER agent would cause some tricky continuity questions, leading to theories that Tina is a relative of Mr. E. (multiple other families have more than one member whose a spy), and that Mr. E is the Black Sheep of the family.
  • Amusing Injuries: SPYDER agent Joshua Hallal is assumed dead at the end of the second book. He returns near the beginning of the third with an artificial leg, a hook hand, and an eyepatch (which he got swatting at a fly on his face before he'd gotten used to the hook) and continues to suffer injuries every time he clashes with the heroes. Warren sometimes suffers these on a more minor scale (like by skiing into a tree, and whacking his head, causing him to spend the rest of the day spouting gibberish).
  • Ancient Conspiracy: Croatoan, the villains of the eighth book. In some ways they serve as a Contrasting Sequel Antagonist to SPYDER (a relatively new organization Only in It for the Money). Croatoan is filled with Spanish zealots who were behind a series of False Flag Operation's (beginning with the disappearance of the Roanoke colony, which they blamed on the local Native tribe, even adopting their name afterwards), initially to try and drive the other colonial powers out of the New World and then to try and topple the American government out of bitterness in the centuries afterwards (long after the actual Spanish government disavowed them). They were behind the Boston Tea Party to start off the Revolutionary War, crashed the stock market in 1929, and burned down the Capitol during the war of 1812. They also are behind the assassinations of Presidents Kennedy, McKinley, Lincoln (giving John Wilkes Booth a Not-So-Fake Prop Weapon and telling him that the assassination was a play) and Harrison (who they poisoned with arsenic while managing to make it look like natural causes).
  • Anti-Mutiny: In the climax of Spy School Goes North, Russian spy Ivan falters in his plan to launch a missile at the Alaskan oil reserves due to it learning it will kill his granddaughter. His Mooks all ignore him and try to go through with the plan due to having spent years being separated from their families and hiding out in Siberia.
  • Arch-Enemy: Murray serves as one to Ben after the first book, with him even being referred to this by name several times.
  • Arms Dealer: Vladimir Gorsky and Paul Lee.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    • In Spy School at Sea, the cruise ship captain is guilty of harboring international fugitives in exchange for money, Human Trafficking forced laborers, smuggling stolen antiques, and serving banquet food ten days past the expiration date.
    • When the Hales are describing how Leo Shang is trying to destroy something in the Rocky Mountains.
      Cyrus: The U.S. government has dozens of extremely critical facilities there: The headquarters for the North American Aerospace Defense, Strategic Missile Command, the Air Force Academy...
      Alexander: The Central Food and Seed Reserve.
      Cyrus frowned disdainfully at this, but he didn't discount it either.
  • Authority in Name Only: Erica reveals to Ben that the man known to the world as the director of the CIA is actually just a figurehead, while the real director of the CIA remains unknown to the public for security reasons.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Many of SPYDER's most dangerous members are pretty quirky. Their leader, Mr. E is a Large Ham who has =Unicorns Rule=!!! as a computer password, and assigns butterfly codenames to SPYDER field operatives.
    Mr. E: So I like butterflies. That doesn't make me any less powerful.
  • Big Brother Bully: Hank Schacter is a bully to everyone, and his younger brother Chip is no exception.
  • Black Sheep: Spy School at Sea reveals that Dane Brammage comes from a law-abiding family ashamed of his actions. His parents wanted him to become a pediatrician, and his cousin is a heroic bodyguard.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: SPYDER agents occasionally pull these, notably the pilots of the plane the main characters are on in the sixth book.
  • Bully Turned Buddy: Chip and Ben's relationship improves a lot over the series, starting with Chip's amusement after watching Ben insult the principal (under Erica's instruction) as a form of manipulation.
  • Butt-Monkey: Alexander Hale, starting in the third book, once he's reduced to serving as an assistant to his cold, harshly critical, and far more competent father. Warren Reeves also tends to get little respect, look like an idiot, or suffer minor injuries on a regular basis.
  • Cardboard Prison: Zigzagged. Some captured villains remain in jail but Murray Hill escapes custody five times, although the first two times he had lots of help from members of SPYDER outside of prison, and the fourth time, he'd been taken out of jail by the heroes to help track down SPYDER's leaders. The fifth time he managed to turn in enough evidence to get into the Federal Witness Protection Program instead of going to prison.
  • Carnival of Killers: In Spy School Project X, a bounty on Ben attracts many professional and amateur killers. They include most of the recurring villains from earlier books, a Mafia goon, a pilot in a stolen military jet, an eyepatch-wearing woman who legally changed her name to Myrtle Combat, an arrogant couple who drive a sports car and wear bodysuits, two hunters who believe in a Conspiracy Theory the Big Bad started claiming that Ben is an evil alien (which eliminates any moral qualms they have about Hunting the Most Dangerous Game), a ninja, a woman who looks like a suburban mom, a woman in a fancy gown, and a man dressed like Mad Max.
  • Caught Monologuing: Invoked in Spy School Revolution, where the Big Bad's evil speech has clearly been practiced before and the heroes repeatedly pretend that they can't hear it over the noise of a bowling alley to make the annoyed villain repeat the whole thing, word for word, buying them time and humiliating said villain.
  • Chameleon Camouflage: Camouflage is the only thing Warren is really good at, with The Nicknamer dubbing him Chameleon. Occasionally he takes it too far, such as when he puts on wood stainer to blend in with wooden furniture and can't get it off the next day, causing a professor to mistake him for a table and put a book on his head.
  • The Chessmaster: SPYDER's leaders generally tend to have planned things very carefully and have anticipated the responses of the heroes to whatever they're going to do, although Ben tends to catch up by the end.
  • Closet Key: In Spy School Goes North, Zoe learns that she's bisexual the moment she lays eyes on teenaged Russian spy Svetlana.
  • Comically Small Bribe: Warren was only paid $250 for betraying everyone else to SPYDER, although Ben suspects that personal pettiness also played a role in that betrayal.
  • Confess to a Lesser Crime: Invoked and subverted in the climax of the fifth novel. Ben and his friends have been framed for trying to kill the President by a treacherous member of the joint chiefs of staff (who was actually just trying to steal the nuclear launch codes) and when all of them are cornered by Pentagon guards, Ben realizes that protesting his innocence will just sound like a bad case of You Have to Believe Me!!. So instead, he confesses to setting off the bomb, but explains that it was to steal the launch codes rather than to try and kill the President, and claims that he was working for the actual bomber. Said bomber tries to deny this, but the guards agree that it does seem more likely that he was the true culprit rather than a teenager acting alone (and who seemed to be confessing to them) and arrest that guy and his accomplice, with their interrogations quickly providing the evidence to exonerate Ben.
  • Covert Group with Mundane Front: One of SPYDER's rival organizations is called the International Tulip Grower's Association. Subverted in Spy School at Sea, where Murray admits that the International Tulip Growers Association is a legitimate organization and he only claimed they were evil as part of a Long Game to manipulate Ben.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check:
    • Zigzagged in Evil Spy School where Spyder bought a bunch of construction companies for money laundering purposes only to find that they could be legitimately profitable, especially when they use those construction companies to get lucrative contracts to repair the massive infrastructure damage from their evil plans.
    • In Spy School Revolution it's revealed that the plot of the movie King Kong was originally one of Croatoan's evil plots, but when they couldn't find a real giant gorilla they sold the idea to Hollywood.
  • Cuteness Proximity: In Spy School Goes North, Ben and Erica can’t help notice the adorableness of various seal and otter families in a fjord that they are fleeing through, and work hard to make sure that they don’t cause the heat-seeking torpedoes that are fired at them to hurt any of those animals.
  • Cynical Mentor: Murray Hill serves as one to Ben in the first book, showing him some of the ropes while advising him about the realties of the spy game.
  • Dean Bitterman: The spy school's principal is a Pointy-Haired Boss who slacks off a lot, and hates Ben for somewhat irrational reasons. The students codename for him is "The Idiot."
  • Deliberate Under-Performance: In the first novel, Murray Hill could be a brilliant student if he wanted to, but as he explains to Ben, students with high grades are sent into the field and are always at risk of dying horribly, while students with middling grades are instead given (safe, well-paying) desk jobs. As a result, Murray makes sure to deliberately and conspicuously fail every class that he has. The entire school (save the narrator) are completely taken in by his facade, until the climax, when it turns out that Murray is The Mole and was also deliberately failing so he’d need tutoring from the RA and have access to steal all of her files about the students and the school.
  • Do Wrong, Right: When it looks like Erica has turned on the CIA in the eighth book, the most convincing argument in her defense is that if she was really trying to kill Ben then she could have easily done so in a less conspicuous and more intelligent way.
  • Does Not Know His Own Strength: Everyone views Ben as a Non-Action Guy for the first ten and a half books, even Ben himself, but Spy School Goes North reveals that he only looks weak compared to all of the other spies in training, and he handily beats up a few Mooks.
  • Dreadful Musician: Vladimir Gorsky and Murray Hill are both noted as being such awful singers that its physically painful to listen to them.
  • Drives Like Crazy:
    • Murray does this in Evil Spy School when he, Ben, Ashley, and Nefarious Jones drive to the beach for the day. He constantly crosses over the lanes on the highway, and has several close calls with oncoming cars and even a semi truck. He also does this in Spy School Goes South, when he joins the ATV chase for Ben through the jungle outside of the Aquarius resort with a souped-up ATV, banging off trees on both sides of the road and flattening every obstacle in his path.
    • Cyrus also tends to do this when annoyed, to the point that Ben says it might've been safer inside the White House with SPYDER's assassins on the prowl.
  • Dumb Muscle: Chip's friend Greg Hauser. Chip himself appears to be one, but is smarter than he looks.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Alexander Hale, on occasion, such as agreeing with Ben that the evil billionaire they're following wouldn't have gone skiing in a business suit.
  • Dungeon Bypass: Shortly after he is recruited to the eponymous school, Mike goes around the high-tech obstacle course rather than going through it. His teacher is unamused, but has to concede that in the field, an agent is expected to take the quickest and safest route to stopping the villains.
  • Earpiece Conversation: Covert radio conversations happen pretty often while Ben is in the field.
  • Either "World Domination", or Something About Bananas: In Spy School Goes North, Ben is trying to stop a missile launch and sees a Russian phrase appear on the computer screen that "read either Ready to fire or Gargle the eggplant."
  • Emergency Multifaith Prayer: Murray Hill engages in reciting the prayers of at least eight different religions when it seems like he’s about to die from a missile strike in Spy School Goes South.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Ben has about one per book, usually Just in Time to foil the Evil Plan.
  • "Everybody Laughs" Ending: The last scene (besides the usual epilogue in the form of a letter) in Spy School Goes North is everyone, even the book's main villain, laughing as they recall how Cyrus Hale (who has been even more unlikable than usual lately) got his hair singed off by a flamethrower boobytrap earlier in the book.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Warren defects to SPYDER shortly before the events of the fifth book.
  • Failed a Spot Check: In Spy School Goes South, Cyrus somehow made a mistake when the pilots he vetted turn out to actually be undercover SPYDER agents who nearly kill the heroes if it weren't for some quick thinking and action from Erica.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Erica's father Alexander is a Living Legend, but is a bit of a hapless buffoon in the field who is always Stealing the Credit (it's eventually implied that he did this to live up to his father's expectations) whose biggest real asset is that he's The Social Expert.
  • Familial Foe: While Murray Hill is Ben's Arch-Enemy, he also fights Erica and her father, as well as her mother, sister, and grandparents in later books, and they come to hate each other.
  • Famous Ancestor: Erica is a descendant of Revolutionary War spy Nathan Hale.
  • Foreign Queasine: The fourth book has an example set in a different part of the same country as the person unhappy with the food. Alexander is aghast to learn that the ingredients for Rocky Mountain Oysters are bull testicles after eating several. He quickly excuses himself to vomit in the parking lot. He's also not too crazy about how the salmon he ordered with it has turned green.
  • Forgotten Birthday: Murray Hill forgets his partner-in-crime Dane's birthday every year, even though their birthdays are on the same day.
  • Formerly Fat: Murray Hill has gotten into good shape by the sixth book, although it doesn't last.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes:
    • Zoe is the only person who really gets along with Warren. In the third book when listing the various skills of everyone she picked to come on the mission with her, Zoe admits she only brought Warren because he would have sulked if she didn't.
    • Erica is also an odd example. While everyone appreciates her skill set, her strict professionalism and reluctance to socialize mean that her eventual boyfriend Ben is the only one to get along with her well on a personal level (especially in the earlier books).
  • Gas Leak Cover Up: Attempted in the eighth book to explain an explosion at CIA headquarters, although no one buys it.
  • Genki Girl: Zoe is a very positive and upbeat character and one of the first to genuinely befriend Ben (although this characterization seems to be slipping a bit by the eighth book). Ashley Sparks is also a pretty cheery and energetic person to be around as long as she likes you, that is.
  • Girl Posse: From Ben's old middle school, Elizabeth Pasternak and her friends Kate Grant and Chloe Appel seem to have one, although they aren't bullies and don't seem particularly shallow.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Erica's grandfather, Cyrus, serves as the Big Good of the series, but is constantly demanding and ungrateful (especially towards Alexander and, to an extent, Ben) and doesn't hesitate to use Ben as bait, or manipulate him into going on dangerous missions without his consent.
  • Graceful Loser: In Spy School Project X, several assassins who go after Ben are falsely told that someone else killed him first. They react fairly calmly and decide to make the best of things and visit a nearby tourist attraction.
  • Green Around the Gills: Alexander spends most of Spy School at Sea (where the main characters are undercover on a ship) vomiting or suffering from delirium due to various motion sickness medications.
  • Guile Hero: Ben.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Nefarious surrenders and helps thwart the Evil Plan at the end of the third book.
  • Hidden Depths: Jerk Jock Chip is secretly a theater buff and is planning to be in a production of Guys and Dolls over summer break.
  • Hollywood Hacking:
    • Mocked by Erica in the first book. She says that SPYDER is convinced Ben has some algorithm which would let them do this, and then she describes how real hacking is a complicated affair that generally takes a minimum of several days.
    • Also averted by Orion in the seventh book.
    Ben: How are you at hacking into computers?
    Orion: I'm [...] not bad. Why?
    Ben: Zoe is trying to get into SPYDER's computer to stop the EMP from detonating. Maybe you could talk her through it?
    Orion: How much time do we have?
    Ben: Six minutes and fifteen seconds.
    Orion: Oh jeez, there's no way.
    Ben: You just said you weren't bad at hacking!
    Orion: I didn't say I was the god of hacking either, did I? And even the god of hacking probably couldn't pull that off. He'd need at least fifteen minutes.
    Ben: But in the movies hackers are always getting into enemy computers within seconds!
    Orion: Yeah, well, they also have talking animals and time travel in movies, don't they? Same level of reality.
  • Hypocritical Heartwarming: Cyrus Hale has fairly "old-fashioned" views about women doing field work, but has been teaching his granddaughter Erica everything he knows practically since she was able to walk.
  • Ice Queen: Erica is practically this trope's poster child. (Zoe even calls her an ice queen several times, to the point that it becomes her nickname for Erica). Erica is a very stiff and clinical person whose displays of emotion are generally limited to Ben, and while she does have Defrosting the Ice Queen moments teased they rarely last. After she comments that Ben's friend Mike is "not so bad," Zoe accuses Erica of liking him based solely on that.
    Zoe: That's the nicest thing I've ever heard you say about a boy. Or anyone. In fact, that's the nicest thing I've ever heard you say, period.
  • In Love with the Mark: Erica's mother, Catherine, first started dating Alexander to spy on him for MI6, but they really did fall in love.
  • In the Blood: Everyone in Erica's paternal family (and her mom) are spies except for her younger sister, going all the way back to the Revolutionary War.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: Paul Lee is a dreaded and powerful Arms Dealer, but only because his father was, with Paul coming across as kind of meek and stupid when he finally appears in person.
  • The Infiltration:
    • One of the professors at spy school, Kieran Murphy, once infiltrated a terrorist cell so expertly, that he was asked to be the best man at their leader's wedding.
    • Various SPYDER agents have infiltrated the CIA.
    • Ben is assigned to infiltrate SPYDER in the third book, after the Hales stage throwing him out of spy school, although it turns out that SPYDER was onto him from the beginning.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: In the fourth book, Cyrus refuses to believe that it's only a coincidence that Ben's best friend from before spy school just happens to be on vacation at the same ski resort where the mission is happening and that neither of them planned it, declaring that such coincidences don't happen. Alexander speaks up, saying that something like that actually did happen to him once when he ran into his third grade teacher on a mission in Istanbul while disguised as a nun.
  • Internal Affairs: Agent Nora Taco in the latest book, head of the newly formed Double Agent Detection Division (DADD).
  • Ironic Fear: Evil Agent Murray Hill is afraid of... you guessed it, spiders. This gets used to frighten him into making a confession at one point.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: Chip spends his time at a raid on SPYDER's lair in the third book stealing stuff like climbing equipment while scouting around.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: The plots and twists of various books (as well as villains uncovered as The Reveal) are casually and frequently described in later books.
  • Latex Perfection: Averted, in the eighth book. A latex mask is discussed as a possible strategy of the villains to have framed Erica for shooting a missile at CIA headquarters. Jawa reveals that the CIA doesn't have any masks like that, as the plastic sags and dissolves in a manner which makes the faces look like zombies.
    Murray: That's the whole point, it's a front. If they called themselves the International Association of Evil People who Commit Crimes for a Living, the good guys would have caught on right away.
  • Loincloth: Woodchuck Wallace is introduced clad in one. It helps establish his wilderness-savvy survivalist image.
  • Long Game: Spy School at Sea reveals that Murray has been working on that particular evil plan since the Time Skip between the third and fourth books and has been accepting money from multiple factions while sabotaging one of them on behalf of another. A seemingly humorous and innocuous comment he makes in the seventh book is an ingenious bit of misinformation meant to misguide the CIA during his upcoming operation two books (for the readers) and two months (in-universe) later.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: Elizabeth Pasternak, a girl at Ben's school who he used to have a crush on (and who Mike dates for a few books), who, according to Alexander, doesn't even know Ben's alive, but doesn't seem malicious or snotty upon actually appearing. When she briefly expresses attraction to Ben upon reappearing in the eighth book he doesn't refer to her as stuck-up or unpleasant, but just too normal, when discussing why he's no longer interested in her.
  • Mama Bear: When Ben's parents finally find out he is a spy his dad thinks it's cool, while his mom is furious over all of the risk and danger he's experienced as a result.
    Mrs. Ripley: Are you telling me that this agency is so incompetent that you accidentally allowed my son to confront evil enemy operatives?
  • Master of Disguise: Naturally the school has one. Harlan Kelly, who teaches a class in it and shows up in a different disguise very day. Murray relates an incident in which the principal once spent a while hitting on one of his female disguises before finding out it was Harlan.
  • Mistaken for Badass: While Ben is genuinely competent in many areas, most of the school (especially Zoe) spend quite some time convinced that he's far tougher and smarter than he actually is, and that any displays of weakness are just to hide his true skills, or part of a Batman Gambit.
  • The Mole: Ben is made one of these in the third book, although it turns out SPYDER was gambling on it the whole time.
  • Most Gamers Are Male: SPYDER member Nefarious Jones spends all of his time playing video games with heavy intensity. this turns into a Chekhov's Skill once it's revealed he's actually training to control multiple drones for a bombing run at the same time.
  • Mugging the Monster: In the seventh book, when a group of garden-variety muggers accost the group (which includes Catherine, Erica and Zoe), Mike lampshades the situation between bursts of laughter, then just sits back and serenely watches them wipe the floor with those muggers.
  • Muggle Best Friend: Ben's buddy Mike remains unaware of spy school for a while, although he gradually gets suspicious and is soon recruited.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: A variant occurs when Warren is attempting to translate a conversation between Leo and Jessica Shang (in Mandarin) that the group is eavesdropping on.
    Warren: She's still very upset. She just called him an onion waffle. Sorry. She called him a bully.
  • The Nicknamer: Zoe is this pretty much from the moment she first appears.
  • Oblivious to Love: Ben spends the first five books marveling over how Zoe can’t realize that her best friend Warren has a crush on her. Somewhat humorously, right after someone finally breaks this to her, it is then revealed that Zoe has spent all of that time crushing over the equally-oblivious Ben, who realized that part of the reason Warren's always been such a Jerkass to him is out of jealousy. Ben himself has a bit of this towards Erica Hale, whose professionalism causes her to take time to realize that Ben likes her and/or that his interest in her is more than just superficial. Zoe also speculates that Ashley Sparks likes Ben.
  • Offstage Villainy: In Spy School at Sea, Ben and Mike are thrown off a cruise ship. They follow some sea turtles to shore and identify themselves as junior CIA agents, only to discover that they've blundered onto the property of a drug lord known as El Diablo. While he's completely unapologetic about being a drug dealer, any villainy he's involved with remains entirely offscreen (save for later loaning his jet to the Big Bad, who is friends with El Diablo). El Diablo thinks Ben and Mike are just in delirium over being CIA agents and lets them leave unharmed after letting them eat and shower at his place. He also talks about how his estate doubles as a sea turtle conservatory, boasts about how he gives back to the community, and seems like a Benevolent Boss to his henchmen.
  • Out of Focus: Murray Hill only appears in a couple of chapters in books 2, 4, 5, and 8.
  • Outside-the-Box Tactic: Mike Brezinski excels at this after being recruited. For instance, shortly after being recruited he received both ire and admiration for running around the non-lethal Death Course rather than charging through it, arguing that in the field they’d be expected to go for something safer and easier rather than just blindly charge at a booby trap and depend on their reflexes. Even the Drill Sergeant Nasty gym coach is unable to argue with this despite clearly being mad at Mike for not braving the course.
  • Patriotic Fervor: In the seventh book, when Alexander and Catherine Hale get into an argument about having never told each other they were spies.
    Catherine: When were you ever honest with me?
    Alexander: That was different! When I lied to you, it was for the good of the United States.
    Catherine: Well, when I lied to you, it was for the sake of England.
    Alexander: That's not as important as lying for the United States. America is more important than England.
    Catherine: Do not make this argument about which country is better. If you do, I will crush you.
  • Portmanteau: Ashley Sparks has a Verbal Tic of throwing at least one of these into all of her conversations (eg: Jidiots, or jerks + idiots).
  • Psycho for Hire: Dane Brammage.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: SPYDER is a business and many of its members casually try to recruit Ben on occasion, or act like it's just a gig.
  • Punny Name:
    • Murray Hill is a neighborhood in Manhattan.
    • Jenny Lake is a lake in Wyoming.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: At the start of the second book, Tina Cuevo, the RA, bemoans that she is being sent to Canada (which is a nice place to live, but not the kind of place with the kind of vital, action-filled missions she was looking forward to) after some of her files were stolen by The Mole. Ben convinces her to look on the bright side, and later when he calls her she admits that the job has turned out to be alright after all.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Lampshaded and discussed in the eighth book when Ben is stunned to find out that Erica has a sister who she's never mentioned before. Erica justifies this with an It's Not You, It's My Enemies explanation (her sister Trixie is Locked Out of the Loop due to it being decided she wouldn't make a good spy by the rest of the family after she couldn't throw a knife or disarm a prop bomb at the age of three). And indeed, once some villains do find out about Trixie's existence they use her to threaten Erica, somewhat justifying all the efforts to keep her under wraps.
  • The Resenter: SPYDER agent Ashley Sparks is very bitter over an Olympic Trials judge saying she didn't stick a landing. Ben's classmate Warren is also pretty jealous of him and relishes the chance to put him down.
  • Samus Is a Girl:
    • Mr. E, the head of SPYDER, is a woman, something Ben is chagrined to have never considered, with all of the misdirection inherent in the spy business.
    • Likewise, 'El Capitain'', the leader of Croatoan, is also female, being CIA agent, Heather Durkee.
  • Shark Pool: Erica learned to swim in one blindfolded (although she had to use groupers instead of actual sharks).
  • Shoot the Builder: The architect who built the Paris home of Mr. E, the head of SPYDER, was murdered after completing the job. Her body (along with the bodies of various other people who've done vital, but sensitive jobs for Mr. E) can be found in the sewers beneath the house.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Murray and his new partner/girlfriend, Jenny Lake, are this when they show up in the fourth book, although it quickly falls apart when Murray gets caught lying to her and she takes it badly.
  • Skewed Priorities:
    • In the sixth book, when Ben figures out the villain's Evil Plan, and all of the death and destruction it will cause, the first reaction of Vladimir Gorsky (who has just been captured) is to complain that it will destroy a place he'd just bought a condo in.
    • When Ben's dad finally finds out he's a spy even in the midst of life or death situations and the amount of secrecy, he's keen on the idea of telling a boastful neighbor about it to one-up him for a change.
    • In one scene of Spy School Project X, the heroes debate jumping six stories off a moving train into a river below. Mike is more concerned about how uncomfortable wet underwear will be than about how dangerous the jump is.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs: In Spy School Project X, two pairs of assassins (a well-dressed Battle Couple with lots of experience and a pair of bumbling Midwestern hunters partaking in their first attempted murder) get captured at the same time. The experienced assassins spend a while insulting the inexperienced ones.
  • The Smart Guy: Ben is a math genius who's always able to figure out what SPYDER (or any other bad guy) is up to.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Jessica Shang, the daughter of the Big Bad of the fourth and ninth books.
  • The Spook: Leo Shang, the Big Bad of book four, is described as having just appeared on China's business scene with millions of dollars five years ago, and no one has been able to find out a thing about his past.
  • The Starscream: Joshua briefly takes an opportunity to try to assassinate several SPYDER leaders in the sixth book to take over the organization, although he fails.
  • Stealing the Credit:
    • Alexander Hale does this on occasion, having built most of his career on the accomplishments of better spies.
    • In the fourth book, it turns out that Murray Hill, who sold the Big Bad an Evil Plan, stole it from the plot of the movie ''Goldfinger, something he makes an unconvincing attempt at denying once Ben calls him out on it.
  • That Came Out Wrong: Lampshaded in one scene where Warren is being questioned by the CIA.
    Warren: I don't know anything, my mind is completely empty. Wait a minute. That's not what I meant...
  • They Killed Kenny: Bad guys Joshua Hallal and Dane Brammage are both assumed dead several times after fights with the heroes, but come back. In the eighth book, this is lampshaded when Ben comments that he last saw Joshua falling off the Eiffel tower and assumes that he's dead, but if he isn't then Ben won't exactly be shocked.
  • Tomboy with a Girly Streak: Erica is a very focused Action Girl, though she has a few interests and hobbies outside of spy school. She has a bedroom full of gingham pillows and posters of kittens (which Ben is under strict orders to never reveal). When she was younger, she loved to pretend she was a princess, although she claims that she was really pretending to be a spy undercover as a princess.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Some of the adolescent spies in training, seeing as how they are, well, spies in training. It's mostly Played for Laughs though.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Downplayed. For all of his incompetence, Alexander is more fatherly towards Ben and the others, listening to their input and trying to keep them well-protected. Once his father takes over, Cyrus is more inclined to risk their lives gratuitously, insult them, and ignore their input on almost everything, while still tending to be just as easily Out-Gambitted by SPYDER as his son. He has seemingly improved a bit in the latest books, but that might just be from being Out of Focus.
  • Unfortunate Names:
    • Nefarious Jones. It's even joked this might be why he joined SPYDER.
    • Agent Nora Taco (a descendant of the inventor of tacos) in the eighth book. She has a strong Never Heard That One Before vibe, and once rants about how she can't even order Mexican food without being teased. And to make matters worse, her name is also, completely coincidentally, an anagram for the evil organization Croatoan, which provides her colleagues with more fodder to tease her with after Ben accuses her of being a double agent while convinced it was a deliberate anagram/alias.
  • We Need a Distraction: In Spy School Project X, it looks like the heroes will have to jump off a moving train and into a river to escape from several assassins. Mike and Jawa are excited about finally getting to do this, after seeing it in so many movies, and Erica lets them (and the principal) jump overboard to distract the villains while she and the others remain onboard.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: It's heavily implied that Alexander is this to his father.
  • When I Was Your Age...: Ben insults the principal (as part of Erica's plan) during one such speech in the first book by venturing some sarcastic guesses about how long ago the principal was his age.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: By the ninth book, Murray has been Taught by Experience not to get Caught Monologuing, and tries to kill Ben in an uncomplicated way while refusing to reveal the details of his evil plan beforehand.
  • Who's on First?: In Spy School Revolution, there's the new Double Agent Detective Division, (DADD), which keeps causing Mr. Ripley to think that members of the group are addressing him when the acronym is said out loud.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Ben does this to Alexander at the climax of the second book, when he's fallen into a depression, and the group need his help, telling him that yes, he is a bad spy, but he couldn't have become a Living Legend without some skills, and right now they need him.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: SPYDER isn't above trying this. Murray Hill learns this the hard way.