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Book Review

The Sword Thief by Peter lerangis has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the third 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 in "The 39 Clues" series (The Maze of Bones), Dan and Amy Cahill's wealthy grandmother, Grace, dies and leaves a challenge to her large extended family: Whoever finds the 39 clues she's left behind will gain wealth and prestige beyond their wildest dreams. Orphaned Amy (age 14) and her brother, Dan (age 11), are determined to outplay their vicious, devious family members.

In this book, Dan and Amy find their boarding passes missing after Nellie (the kids' au pair [nanny]) has boarded their plane to Tokyo. Uncle Alistair, a competitor, offers to take the kids to Tokyo on his private jet. Though Dan and Amy have been warned not to trust anyone, they have little choice but to accept since Nellie, their only adult-figure, is already en route to Japan. Once in Tokyo, Alistair and the kids discuss Japanese history and decide the clues are pointing them to an ancient warrior from the Thomas branch of the Cahill family named Hideyoshi and his descendants, the yakuza. They've just printed out a map of secret subway tunnels when they realize their computer has been hacked by the Holt family, another competitor.

The Holts capture and transport them to the subway, where the whole group looks for clues until they're almost hit by a train. The Holts escape the way they entered, while the kids are saved by Alistair, who pulls them into a secret room within the tunnel walls. Yakuza warriors with swords quickly drive Alistair and the kids above ground, but just as they're about to be captured, Nellie, the two relatives who stole their boarding passes (Ian and Natalie Kabra), and Grace's cat, Saladin, arrive to save them. Alistair and the kids decide to work with the Kabras temporarily. Ian gives Amy a coin with a symbol on it, and in conjunction with a scroll they've found in the subway, the group decides the clues are pointing toward Alistair's homeland, Korea. On the flight, Alistair thinks about his painful discovery: Many years ago his Uncle Bae hired someone to murder Alistair's father.

When the next clue leads them to an alchemy chart and a mountain cave containing a new clue, Ian takes back the coin and uses it to seal Amy, Dan and Alistair in the cave while he and Natalie escape to continue their quest. Alistair and the kids find gunpowder fuses and blow their way out of the cave, but Alistair does not emerge from the rubble. The children appear devastated because they think he died. Bae and the elusive man in black (who appears briefly in each book) watch their reactions from the shadows. They also believe Alistair has been killed. As the children and Nellie resignedly head to Egypt to follow the next lead, Alistair reveals to Bae that he's still alive.

Christian Beliefs

When Alistair and the kids need to start a fire and only have three matches left, Alistair instructs them to pray.

Other Belief Systems

The kids find a collection of golden buddhas. Amy believes she and Dan have had a seven-year string of bad luck, beginning with the deaths of their parents. Alistair says evolution does not favor the Holts' branch of the family.

Authority Roles

Elderly Uncle Alistair has a soft spot for Dan and Amy, even though they're the competition. His inner monologue reveals that both his father and their parents were killed so someone could obtain clues.

(Clarifying note: On the one hand, Grace dies and leaves behind a challenge about the 39 clues. But on the other, the book indicates that the various Cahill branches have been looking for clues for generations. Alistair's father was killed when he was 4, and Dan and Amy's parents died seven years ago. Evidently they were killed by some of the clue seekers before Grace died.)

Alistair partners with Dan and Amy for most of the book, helping them get to Japan and sharing his secret information about the contest. He lies to a librarian about what he's researching so she will allow him access to the library's computers. Nellie, a young lady with multiple piercings and tattoos who loves punk rock music, is the token caretaker for the kids now that they're on the run from their mean aunt and legal guardian. Showing no concern for Dan's and Amy's lives, Eisenhower Holt commands his family to get out of a tunnel as the subway approaches. Alistair recalls his painful childhood under the guidance of his greedy, ruthless Uncle Bae, who had Alistair's father killed and raised him when his mother had to be hospitalized due to her grief.


Characters use God's name in vain several times. Butt, dang, fart, heck and turd also appear. When Alistair tells the kids they're in a cave full of schist, Dan tells him to watch his language. Eisenhower says that the Holts are viewed as stains on the family underpants. Irina curses violently, though the actual swear words don't appear in the text.

Dan and Amy vomit after they escape from an explosion, which they believe has killed Alistair. Dan refers several times to video games he plays, including Warcraft and Ninja Gaiden. He says the ninjas in the latter game will cut off your arms and feed them to you. In their online search for clues, the kids find a picture of a scary Japanese warrior holding a severed head.


Ian brushes his lips against Amy's, an almost-kiss, after he saves her from a rockslide.

Discussion Topics

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

Additional Comments/Notes

Go to PluggedIn for reviews of the online games and video games that kids in this book played: World of Warcraft and Ninja Gaiden II

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

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




Peter Lerangis






Record Label



Scholastic, Inc.


On Video

Year Published





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