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Book Review

The Emperor's Code by Gordon Korman has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the eighth book in the "39 Clues" series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

In the first book of the series, The Maze of Bones, Amy and Dan's grandmother, Grace, dies and leaves them with a choice between inheriting $1 million and searching for 39 clues that, once found, will make them the most powerful people in the world. World domination is the prize. The children and a number of their corrupt relatives have chosen to hunt for the clues, resulting in a dangerous adventure for all.

In book eight, the children travel with their au pair to Beijing after seeing a Janus crest on the wall of the Forbidden City in the movie The Last Emperor. Within the walls of the Forbidden City, Dan finds a temple with the same crest and locates a silk cloth in the attic with the following equation written on it: Lucian+Janus+Tomas+Ekat=Cahill. He is caught by security but is able to pass the cloth to Amy undetected.

In Tiananmen Square, when Amy questions whether their parents were as good as they believed, Dan becomes angry and runs away from her. He is abducted by a wedding sedan and put in another van with Ian and Natalie Kabra.

They try to get information from him about the clues. When he fails to deliver, he is rendered unconscious with a chloroform-soaked handkerchief. Dan wakes up on a conveyor belt in a lollipop factory. His cousin Jonah Wizard, a hip-hop mogul, rescues him. Jonah takes Dan back to his hotel and convinces Dan that Amy has abandoned him.

Meanwhile, Amy and Nellie, their au pair, contact Uncle Alistair to help them locate Dan. Alistair makes excuses for his past betrayals, and together they discover the last emperor of China was a Cahill. Amy sees an ad in the paper for Jonah's concert and decides that it is the best place to look for Dan in a city where he doesn't know the language and has no money.

Leaving the concert, Dan is trampled by the crowd and left behind with Jonah's father. Jonah meets up with Amy and Nellie and tells them on the way back to their hotel that he has not seen Dan. He later tells Dan that there has been no sign of Amy and convinces Dan to travel with him to the Shaolin Temple, the home of Kung Fu. At the temple, Dan climbs a hill and finds a locket hidden behind a rock.

Alistair shows Amy and Nellie a newspaper story identifying Dan as a member of Jonah's entourage. Believing Jonah will continue with his search for clues, Amy and Nellie proceed with their own, hoping to find Dan along the way.

Jonah's father receives a text providing coordinates to a terra-cotta warrior in Xian. From him, they are supposed to find the next clue. Jonah believes the text is a setup; he sends Dan into the midst of the warriors as a decoy. A warrior, who isn't the terra-cotta warrior, attacks Dan. Jonah flees. Feeling guilty for his betrayal, Jonah returns to help Dan, and the two boys escape the building into the arms of the police.

Meanwhile, Amy and Nellie find a secret door at the Great Wall that leads them to a cluttered attic room. Amy sees this as an opportunity to use the feng shui training another relative, Grace, gave her. Arranging things in the room, she discovers the clue is "where the earth meets the sky."

Jonah bails on the clue hunt after claiming that it makes you less than human. His mother shows up and slaps him for his decision and sends him sprawling across the floor. She claims Dan as a Janus, but Dan declares himself a Madrigal and abandons the stunned family. Dan sees Hamilton Holt at Mount Everest on television. He realizes that he needs to go there to find Amy. He has no money, so he hides in a boxcar headed to Tibet.

Grace told the children about a French A-Star helicopter that was able to land at the summit of Everest and is now parked on the mountain. Amy remembers this story and sees it as her opportunity to reach the top, if Nellie will agree to pilot the chopper. Dan also remembers the story and shows up at the hangar just as the girls discover the helicopter. Nellie's boss convinces the pilot to operate the flight for the children, but Nellie is not allowed on board.

At the summit, Amy and Dan find a vial with frozen contents bearing the Janus' crest. As they are climbing back into the helicopter, Eisenhower Holt grabs the left runner and snatches the vial. Ian Kabra shows up and steals the vial from Holt just as he falls from the mountain. Amy grabs Ian's hand, but the vial is lost. Amy realizes that the silk fabric and the vial are connected. She concludes that the vial contained raw silkworm secretion.

Dan shows Amy the locket he found on the hill by the temple. It is a picture of Anne Bonmy, a notorious female pirate during the 1700s. The children set their sights on the Caribbean for their next adventure.

Christian Beliefs

Nellie declares, "Thank God" when they discover Dan is with Jonah.

Other Belief Systems

Dan believes Grace is searching for the clues from her grave. It is believed that the contest is the most important thing on the face of the earth. There is a simple explanation of feng shui, the Chinese art of arranging buildings or items in a way that allows for the greatest flow of qi, energy. Amy believes that Madrigals are horrible but that they can change their destiny. She says it is important to value truth above all.

Authority Roles

Nellie's job is to watch over the children, but she receives word from her boss that, as important as finding Dan is, nothing takes precedence over the clue hunt. She continues to surprise Amy with her skills when she is able to pick locks and calls in for help from her boss who gets them on the A-Star. The kids realize Nellie is more than an au pair but believe she is on their side.

Alistair again proves he has a soft spot for the kids. As much as he is out to win, his concern makes him stop and help Amy and Nellie find Dan. He excuses his past betrayals by telling Amy that the Cahills serve two masters: their humanity and the 39 clues. Jonah tells Dan that he will help him and then sets Dan up for disaster. He continually lies to Dan about Amy and prevents them from finding each other. He makes the decision to leave the race because of who he is becoming, but that causes problems with his family.

Jonah's parents prove to be dysfunctional. His mother is obsessed with the race and physically attacks Jonah when he declares he is finished with the clues. His father, a talented musician on his own, lives in his son's shadow and caters to the hip-hop mogul's lifestyle. He is always busy texting and provides no boundaries for Jonah.


Amy says, "I'll kill him" in reference to Dan. Amy refers to Dan as an idiot and a dweeb. Jonah uses a lot of hip-hop lingo. Nellie calls Jonah "a world-renowned jerk face" and refers to him as "God's gift to hip-hop." Amy threatens to strangle Jonah if he hurts Dan. Hamilton Holt refers to Eisenhower as a "boob."


A Chinese girl offers Dan money so she can get a kiss from Jonah, and a paper airplane with a phone number and lipstick stains lands at Dan's feet.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

9 to 12


Gordon Korman






Record Label



Scholastic Inc.


On Video

Year Published



"The 39 Clues" series is a New York Times Bestselling Children's Book Series.


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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