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Literature / The 39 Clues

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Let the hunt begin...
Amy: I mean, what could make somebody the most powerful Cahill in history? And why thirty-nine clues?
Dan: Thirty-nine is a sweet number. It's thirteen times three. It's also the sum of five prime numbers in a row - 3,5,7,11,13. And if you add the first three powers of three, 3 to the first, 3 to the second, and 3 to the third, you get thirty-nine.
Amy: How did you know that?
Dan: What do you mean? It's obvious.
The Maze of Bones

Quiz time: What is ''The 39 Clues"?

A. Childrens' book series
B. Website
C. Collectible card game
D. Sweepstakes

The answer is E, all of the above.

The book series by various authors,click for list  as well as the website, cards, and sweepstakes, deal with the Cahill family, one of the most powerful families the world has ever known, as almost every historical figure from the last five hundred years is related to them. The family is divided into one of four branches - the Ekaterina, who are the geniuses and inventors of the world, the Tomas, who are explorers and athletes, the Lucians, who are the spies, generals, and leaders, and the Janus, the artists, musicians, and authors.

When Grace Cahill, arguably one of the last genuinely nice Cahills, dies, she chooses to unveil her alternate will and kickstart a globe-trotting quest to find the source of the family's power. Such power can only be found by assembling all 39 Clues.

Our story begins when Amy and Dan Cahill, orphans who live with their disinterested great-aunt Beatrice, attend their grandmother Grace's funeral and the reading of her will. There, along with an assortment of colorful distant relatives, they make the choice: one million dollars or the chance to find the Clues alongside au pair Nellie Gomez. They choose to receive their first Clue, and are subsequently thrown into a five-hundred-year-old web of backstabbing, lies, and deceit. The first series follows them through the Clue hunt as they travel the globe, clash with their scheming relatives, and discover troubling truths about themselves and the Cahill family at large.

Flash forward two years to the beginning of the Sequel Series, Cahills vs. Vespers. The Clue hunt has ended, but a new threat has surfaced; it was revealed at the end of the first series that the Clue hunt was really only a practice run for a greater conflict between the Cahills and a previously unknown rival faction. This group, the Vespers, are allegedly so evil that they make the Big Bad of the first series look like Mother Teresa by comparison. Now the Vespers have begun making demands of the Cahill family, and the lives of seven hostages are at stake. Amy and Dan are once more sent on a trip around the world, frantically chasing down Vesper One's demands, while their teammates provide support from the Cahill Command Center, a computer lab that has been set up in Grace's mansion.

A third series, named Unstoppable, was published from late 2013 to 2014, dealing with some of the fallout from the conflict with the Vespers, with presidential candidate J. Rutherford Pierce serving as Big Bad. Scholastic proceeded to publish a fourth one, from early 2015 to mid 2016, in which a new villain with mysterious ties to Grace named the Outcast has taken control of much of the family's resources. A standalone novel named Outbreak was released in late 2016, dealing with the doings of a pharmaceutical company with which Sinead Starling was involved.

The official web site was originally here, but it seems to have been taken down; the address now redirects to the Scholastic Books web site. Character sheet is here, and individual books have recap pages here.

This book series provides examples of:

    open/close all folders 

  • Depending on the Writer: The way the Cahill Serum is portrayed depends really on the Writer. Later books depict it as more dangerous to the taker than earlier books do.

    Series 1: The Clue Hunt 
  • Abusive Parents: This is most certainly the case with Ian and Natalie since, Isabel Kabra verbally degrades them on a regular basis. They both love her, and fear her simultaneously — while also thinking that they lead the perfect lives because of all the wealth their family has
  • All There in the Manual: Inputting cards' codes on the website either unlocks a secret file or is part of a Clue Combo. Solving website missions' and inputting ultra-rare cards' codes unlocks one of the 39 Clues.
  • Arc Number: Despite its inclusion in the series name, 39 only shows up as the number of clues, and there doesn't seem to be any reason for it to be this particular number. (When Amy wonders about this, Dan points out that 39 is "a pretty sweet number": 13x3, the sum of the first five odd prime numbers, 3^1+3^2+3^3). (Presumably, the authors wanted a numerically interesting number that no one had used before.) 7 actually shows up more in the story (7 teams, Amy and Dan discover their family branch at the end of Book 7, and 7 captives in the sequel series. 7 is also the age Amy was when she and Dan lost their parents, and the next big change in her life comes 7 years after that, when her grandmother dies and the clue hunt begins. Then she gets a small break until she's 16, the digits of which add up to 7, when the Vespers attack.
  • Area51: The Lucians are in charge of this location.
  • Audio Adaptation: Read by David Pittu!
    • Nellie is given a hint of accent, and the Kabras sound upper-crust snooty (which is amazing).
    • Each audio book also contains a small recording at the end that reveals backstories not shown anywhere else.
  • Badass Driver: Nellie is trained in defensive driving and shows it on a regular basis.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Beethoven certainly was, as well as Mozart, Neil Armstrong, Einstein, Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, Houdini, Bill Gates, and George Washington, among others. Pretty much any famous person in history is said to be part of the Cahill family and to have participated in the quest for the thirty-nine clues.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Amy and Dan are a sister and brother who work together to find the thirty-nine clues; Natalie and Ian are as well.
  • Character Development:
    • Amy overcomes a lot of her shyness.
    • All of the minor characters get this. If you look at reviews of the first book of the series, you'll see critiques of the "one-dimensional" relatives. Stick around until the middle of the series and interesting developments will begin taking place, especially - unusually for a childrens' book series - among adult supporting characters; the younger minor characters' development mostly happens in the last two books.
  • Chekhov's Classroom: All the things Grace taught the Cahill siblings came in handy on the clue hunt.
  • Creator's Culture Carryover: Ian has pink dollar signs of all things on his underwear, even though he's from Britain, where the dollar is not used. It's possible he bought them in America.
  • Death by Origin Story: The death of Hope and Arthur is a crucial part of the backstory of their children, Amy and Dan. Honoring their memories and finding out more about them often influence Amy and Dan's motivations through various arcs.
  • Depending on the Writer: While sometimes there is geniune Character Development and the reveal of Hidden Depths, sometimes characters, particularly Ian and Natalie, undergo drastic and rapid personality changes, depending on how an author views them. For example, Gordon Korman tends to portray Ian as hot-headed and his sister as the patient and collected one, while in Patrick Carmen's The Black Circle, Natalie is the one throwing a fit when things don't go as planned while Ian is able to keep his head.
  • Doesn't Trust Those Guys: "Never trust a Cahill."
  • Downer Beginning: The series begins with Grace Cahill's death.
  • Everyone Is Related: Practically all the main characters are Cahills, with fans who make accounts on the web site also being "inducted" into the Cahill family. (However, it's a very distant relation, with common ancestors only as recent as the early 16th century.)
  • Feuding Families: The Lucian, Ekaterina, Tomas, and Janus branches are all feuding, especially the Ekaterina and Tomas.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Dan and Amy, respectively. Dan gets somewhat better, though.
  • Follow in My Footsteps: The reason most of the main clue hunters, including Amy and Dan, want to win the clue hunt, and are so ruthless in the way they go about it.
  • Follow the Chaos: Even early on in the clue hunt, Nellie is able to locate Amy and Dan by turning on the news, seeing where's there been some suspicious-sounding trouble, and heading directly to that location.

  • Goofy Print Underwear: Dan has Pokemon on his, and Ian has pink dollar signs of all things on his.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Even Amy and Dan, who are by far the nicest and most principled clue hunters, will do morally questionable things from time to time, and even the most evil character, Isabel Kabra, is implied to not be completely heartless and to care about her children to some extent — although she turns on them when she considers them in the way of her getting the master serum.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Oh so many. It might even be a Heel–Face Revolving Door for every Cahill. They all seem to have ulterior motives. By In Too Deep Irina has basically switched sides and wants to help Amy and Dan — but of course they don't believe her until the very end...
  • Hypocritical Humor: At one point in the series, Dan complains "I can't believe she cheated me - right when I was in the middle of cheating her!"
  • In My Language, That Sounds Like...: In The Maze of Bones, Amy hastily tells Nellie to get them rooms for the night at a seedy-looking hotel called the "Maison des Gardons," which she assumes means "House of Gardens." Later they find out the hard way that "gardons" means "roaches".
  • Island Base:
    • The Ekaterina have one inside The Bermuda Triangle.
    • Also,Madrigals have one on Easter Island.
    • There's also the original island home of the Cahills where the Gauntlet is located.
  • Killed Off for Real: Irina really does die in In Too Deep, not faking it.
  • Kissing Cousins: Almost any pairing in the book can be considered this seeing as almost every character is a Cahill, although how closely they're related can vary up to a shared ancestor five hundred years ago. This is usually dismissed though, seeing as apparently half of Earth's population is one.
  • Look Behind You: When Natalie tells a disbelieving Hamilton that Amy and Dan just entered the building, he's surprised to find out that it's not a trick to get him to leave her brother alone, and that Amy and Dan really just came in.
  • Machiavelli Was Wrong: Well, he was certainly right in regards to Ian and Natalie's relationship with their mother. Until the last book, when they realize that, while they loved Isabel, they were only following her (mostly) out of fear.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Irina betrays Isabel because of the latter's cruel treatment of her (although her "reward" for this is death), and later, Ian and Natalie leave their mother after learning that she drank the Lucian serum and did numerous evil things detailed in her secret files. Then, when Isabel tries to kill them, that only seals the deal.
  • Photographic Memory: Dan can remember anything.
  • Plot-Driving Secret: The plot revolves around discovering what each of the thirty-nine clues are.
  • Privileged Rival: The Kabras, full stop. They're the only other Brother–Sister Team on the hunt besides the protagonists, Amy and Dan, and are even the same ages, but are much more ruthless and much richer and trained.
  • Put on a Bus: The Starlings are caught in an explosion rigged by the Holts and end up in the hospital, keeping them out of the clue hunt for the next nine books, but they return in book ten.
  • Reconcile the Bitter Foes: This is the goal of the Madrigals, and Amy and Dan manage to bring about a truce between the clue-hunting teams.
  • Redemption Equals Death: For Irina, whose redemption arc concludes with her proving her genuine concern for Amy and Dan by dying for them.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Actually a subversion. Amy and Dan aren't above stealing and lying if it means getting any information at all on their parents and the fire that killed them.
  • Secret Legacy: After years of living relatively normal lives, Amy and Dan discover that their family legacy includes branches locked in a centuries-old feud and struggle to amass power, often through dubious means.
  • Team Pet:
    • Saladin, Grace's cat, who accompanies Amy and Dan on their adventures.
    • The Holts have their dog, Arnold.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Occurs whenever alliances are formed between teams. Of special note are the Cahills and the Kabras, rival teams who find themselves reluctantly working together in book 3, and the Kabras and Irina, who work together in books 5 and 6 to win the hunt for the Lucian branch while distrusting and disliking each other.
  • Theme Naming: The Holts are all named after iconic United States political figures. Eisenhower and this twin daughters, Reagan and Madison, are all named after the surnames of U.S. Presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and James Madison. Eisenhower's wife is named Mary-Todd (Abraham Lincoln's First Lady), their son is named Hamilton (presumably for Alexander Hamilton) and their dog is named Arnold (Benedict, possibly?).
  • There Are No Therapists: Whoo, boy... It'd be easier to name the characters in this series who don't have some form of mommy/daddy issues, not to mention near-death experiences, yet at no point does the possibility of anyone getting treatment for their trauma come up.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Subverted. The Viper's Nest reveals that the Cahill family branch that the protagonists belong to is the Madrigals, a branch known that is The Dreaded. At the end of Storm Warning, it is explained that their notorious reputation is actually due to their secretiveness, and the Madrigals are actually quite peaceful. Their main goal is to unite the all five branches of the Cahill Family.
  • Twin Telepathy: Amy and Dan aren't twins, but they are siblings who are pretty close and always know what the other is thinking by reading each other's facial expressions. Some fanfiction makes it practically telepathy, in any case.
  • Undisclosed Funds: Readers are never told exactly how rich Grace Cahill is. Even one trading card that lists the wealthiest Cahills and how much they're worth leaves out how much money Grace has.
  • Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Amy's always had somewhat of a crush on the fabulous Ian Kabra. After he "fakes" love for her and leaves her for dead in a cave she eventually starts getting over him. Too bad he's starting to develop genuine feelings...
  • Wham Episode:
  • Wham Line: In The Viper's Nest, Grace says that she can't listen to the music of Orlando di Lasso because it's "a sad reminder" of Hope and Arthur's branch. When Amy and Dan have some of di Lasso's music, they find out which branch they belong to because of the title and the above fact:
    Mon coeur se reccomande a vous by Orlando di Lasso.
    A Madrigal, in Four Parts.

    Series 2: Cahills vs. Vespers 

Warning: By definition, it is impossible to discuss a Sequel Series without spoiling the first series, so expect unmarked spoilers for Series 1 from here on out.

  • Caper Rationalization: Silly Interpol. They aren't stealing because they're crazy criminals; they're stealing because a shadowy, evil organization has kidnapped seven of their family members and require that they steal things as part of the ransom.
  • Darker and Edgier: There's no doubt that Cahills vs. Vespers is darker than the original series...
    • A huge amount of Mook deaths occur.
    • Besides death, there's an increase in violence, and the authors don't shy away from describing blood - see Only a Flesh Wound. And in Trust No One, Alistair is Killed Off for Real.
    • There are more deaths, both major and total, in Day of Doom alone than in all of the books of the previous series combined.
    • Though the language remains (almost always) kid-friendly, it's obvious that more liberties have been taken than in the original series. For example, "ass" appears once in Trust No One, and "pissed off" also appears twice.
    • A Love Dodecahedron shows up in "Dead of Night".
    • Also, just take a look at Amy and Dan themselves in comparison with the beginning of the first series... or even the end. It's clear that their experiences have not only made them stronger, but also psychologically damaged them. (See also: Amy going into Heroic Safe Mode at the end of Trust No One.)
  • Evil Gloating: Isabel goes on and on when she kidnaps Atticus.
  • Face–Heel Turn: It is revealed that one of the Cahills (Sinead) is a double
  • Fire-Forged Friends: The Cahill family, even if "friends" may be still a stretch in some cases.
  • Hostage Situation: The premise of the series is that seven Cahills have been kidnapped, and Amy and Dan Cahill have to fulfill bizarre ransom requests to get them back.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: The Vespers promise to hurt one of the heroes' family members if they don't complete the given tasks. See Hostage Situation entry above and Revenge by Proxy entry below.
  • Killed Off for Real: Alistair, McIntyre, Evan, Natalie, and Isabel die permanently.
  • Long-Distance Relationship: Amy and Evan start one of these (carried on mostly via phone) after Amy and Dan take off on their missions around the world.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Nellie is shot in the shoulder and lives, although she needed to have the bullet removed to do so. Her survival might not be as implausible had the removal been done properly by trained professionals. Instead, the incisions are made by a twelve-year-old and the removal is done by a thirteen-year-old, both of whom are inexperienced, and the latter of whom is so squeamish about blood that she has her eyes closed while she removes the bullet. In an unsterilized environment, natch.
  • Parental Abandonment: As stated above, Ian and Natalie. Isabel disowned them. Also, Cora Wizard is no longer speaking to her son Jonah.
  • Revenge by Proxy: When the Vespers think that Amy and Dan are trying to trick them, they shoot Nellie, but she survives.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Amy and Dan climb even higher on the Justified Criminal ladder with the things the Vespers make them do in hopes of getting the hostages back alive.
  • Shown Their Work: Like in the first series, it's Justified. This time, Amy's joined by Atticus in her love of talking about history.
  • Take Me Instead: Amy tries to trade herself for the hostages.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Ian and Evan working together in the Cahill Command Center, though any of the Cahills working together qualify, since they had such a fiercy rivarly before the conclusion of the Hunt.
  • There Are No Therapists: Or at least, if there are, Dan hasn't seen any, even if he needs to. (For that matter, several characters need to.)
  • Time Skip: Two years have passed since the first series (making Amy sixteen years old and Dan thirteen).
  • We Have to Get the Bullet Out!: See "Only a Flesh Wound" entry above.
  • Wham Episode: Happens constantly:
    • A King's Ransom: William McIntyre dies, starting the Anyone Can Die atmosphere. The Guardians are revealed, and Atticus is one. Then Atticus is kidnapped, and Dan gets a text from AJT.
    • Shatterproof: Erasmus follows Amato to the Vesper base, but she manages to kill him. Then Jonah and Hamilton show up, and Jonah shoots Amato. Furthermore, another big reveal happens in the online game, or the beginning of Trust No One for those who don't play it: Vesper Three is Sinead Starling.
    • Trust No One: After the aformentioned reveal, Isabel comes back. Then V1 says they're done with giving him stuff, after one more: the Cahill Ring. Then we find out what the Vespers are using all of this stuff for: They're building a Doomsday Device. Finally, in order to combat them, Dan drinks the Serum.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The trading cards give major hints that Broderick Wizard, Jonah's father, is a Vesper. Because he appears in the original series and his character is even given a little more depth in the eighth book, it is expected that he will make an appearance in this series, one way or another. He never does.

    Series 3: Unstoppable 
  • Break His Heart to Save Him: When, despite her repeated requests, Jake refuses to stop following Amy into dangerous situations, she attempts to get him to stop by telling him she doesn't have feelings for him, since Let's Just Be Friends didn't dissuade him, either.
  • Heroes With Bad Publicity: Amy and Dan become this when a villainous media mogul targets them, twisting facts and pictures to make them look morally dubious and uncaring than they actually are. It doesn't help that they've been Justified Criminals for the past couple of series, with more people knowing about the crimes they've committed than the reasons for them.

  • Tile Drop: - in book 3 of the Unstoppable series. (I am not going to put over all book number). Pierce says 'He will be in unstoppable'. in the end of chapter 20. Usually it says not to put common words here. but the way it was done, it was obviously an a tile drop.

. consistency troubles - this troper of might have trouble figuring out which one it is. but this was very obvious. in book 3 of this series, Amy says he has a face that no 12-year old should have. according to this page as of 2022 may. Dan is 13 in Cahills vs Vespers series. this is so no support even though I did not read the previous book series for multiple years, I even noticed, that the age is wrong.

  • Shout-Out: Jonah calls Pony "Pony Boy" and asks him if he's "staying gold."
  • Shown Their Work: The Cahills and Rosenblooms learn a lot about ancient civilizations as they travel around the world looking for the ingredients of the serum's antidote, and they talk about what they learn a lot. Justified in that the information is often crucial to finding the ingredients, and a couple of the characters are really into history.
  • Wham Episode: Countdown: Amy drinks the original serum, meaning she's going to die. Pierce gets Olivia's book, and starts trying to make a serum without side-effects. Nellie and Sammy are captured by Pierce's company. Finally, Pierce uses the book to set a trap for the Cahills and kidnaps Dan, and Pony is killed trying to save him.

    Series 4: Doublecross 
  • Running Gag: Cara calling Ian "Brit-fuff-fuff", whenever the latter's uptight personality resurfaces.
  • Separated by a Common Language: Ian has difficulty adjusting to life in America, where he finds that many people misunderstand the British terms he uses.
  • Shown Their Work: The historical facts start popping up on page three, when Ian compares his accomplishments to those of Napoleon.

    Series 5: Superspecial 
The final book in the entire series.

    Companion Books 
The Companion Books include: Agent Handbook, Rapid Fire, The Cahill Files, Midnight Ride, Worlds Collide, and The Black Book of Buried Secrets

Warning: Unmarked spoilers for Series 1 and possibly Series 2 below.

  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Many Cahills have interests that include hobbies that are rather common... and hobbies that reflect their espionage experience.
    • Cora's skills are listed as "painting, sculpture, manipulation, drawing, spying, blackmail."
    • Katherine Cahill's are "reasoning, inventing, calculating, analyzing, double-crossing."
    • Natalie's interests include "shopping, yachting, manicures, target practice" - target practice for her dart gun, that is.
    • Hope Cahill's interests are "archaeology, baking, singing, explosives."
  • Holiday-Appropriate Weather: In Legacy when it is revealed on Christmas that Grace is going to die, it begins to snow.
  • I Can't Believe a Guy Like You Would Notice Me: Played with in Crushed. Amy finds it amazing that a guy like Ian is visiting a girl like her. Ian finds it difficult to believe, too.
  • Noodle Incident: The Submarine Job never really explains the story behind Grace's decision to drive that car off a cliff.
  • Stalking Is Love: In Operation Trinity, set before the clue hunt, Ian watches Amy on one of the Cahill activity surveillance camera feeds his parents keep before heading to dinner, and it's revealed he knows that it's time for the schools in her city to let out. The entire, plot-irrelevant scene seems to have been thrown in solely as a Ship Tease.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Rupert of Silent Night really wants his aloof father to notice him.
  • Young Future Famous People: The Houdini Escape features a young Harry Houdini, and there is short story about young Winston Churchill in The Black Book of Buried Secrets.
  • Your Mother Has Her Ways: In Operation Trinity, Irina tells Ian and Natalie Kabra ''Your mother has her methods" when asked how they obtained information belonging to the Ekats.

  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick:
    • According to her offical social networking profile, Alana Flores has quite a variety of interests, including "chess, International finance... medieval torture devices, Scottish terriers."
    • Chrissy's interests are listed as "cheerleading, dance team, cryptography, kittens, lock picking, gymnastics, karaoke, late-night expeditions." Natalie's are "afternoon tea, Catherine the Great, high fashion, female pirates, target practice, the south of France, fox hunting, being fashionably late."
  • Dirty Cop: The Lucians have bribed many a police officer.
  • The Fashionista: Lily Chernova loves fashion even more than math.
  • Revenge of the Sequel: Parodied in an online message from the branch heads. Dan apparently decided to use his new credit card to order The Ninja’s Revenge Part VII: The Last Revenge and The Ninja’s Revenge Part VIII: The Final Last Revenge on Pay-per-view.