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Book Review

The Viper's Nest by Peter Lerangis has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the seventh 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 series, The Maze of Bones, Amy and Dan's grandmother, Grace, dies and leaves them a choice. They can inherit $1 million or have the opportunity to search for 39 clues that, once found, will make them the most powerful people in the world. Amy (14), her brother, Dan (11), and a number of their corrupt relatives choose to hunt for the clues.

In book seven, Amy and Dan travel with their au pair, Nellie, to Pretoria, South Africa, after deciphering a clue from a song. At the airport, a limo driver gives them a handwritten business card with a picture of a Zulu warrior holding a shield. Dan learns that this warrior is Shaka, a famous Zulu who was known for his violent fighting techniques. The children unscramble the address on the card and proceed to Constitution Hill to learn more about this warrior.

Previously a prison, Constitution Hill is now the location of a library where secret letters from Winston Churchill are being kept. The children learn that Churchill had a connection with Grace, as did the librarian. Churchill had been a prisoner at Constitution Hill, but after escaping, he went into hiding in Witbank's mines. The letters lead the children to Witbank, and the librarian secretly informs Professor Bardsley of Amy and Dan's presence in South Africa.

In Witbank, Amy distracts the mineworkers while Dan goes down an abandoned shaft. With Nellie's assistance, Dan finds a message that Churchill carved into the rock wall; it tells of a clue being buried with the remains of Shaka. The coordinates for his grave are provided.

The coordinates lead Amy, Dan and Nellie to a solar panel factory on the top of a hill. At the base of the hill is a Zulu village. The villagers warn the children about the factory and tell how many of the village residents have disappeared. They seem to fear it.

The forest surrounding the factory is filled with hunting traps, and the gates provide strong warnings of radioactive danger. Inside the factory, the children hear cries of anguish and find walls smeared with red. The factory contains a leadership school for the Tomas line. They teach Shaka's method of combat to produce ultimate fighters. The leaders of the "factory" believe Amy and Dan have been sent for training. Dan finds a shield that resembles the one they saw on a postcard and at Shaka's grave. He digs around the gravesite and uncovers a box overgrown with vines. An alarm sounds as he pulls the box out of the ground.

The children attempt to escape. With the assistance of Professor Bardsley and his team, they get out of the factory but find themselves in the forest, surrounded by a group of fighters. Aware of the hunting traps, the children and Professor Bardsley's team lure the fighters to a location where they fall into a pit. As everyone watches, Dan breaks open the box and finds a diamond bracelet. The clue Churchill referred to is assumed to be "diamond."

Amy and Dan believe they are finished in South Africa and plan their next journey to Karachi, Pakistan. However, before boarding the plane, Isabel Kabra has them kidnapped and tries to convince them to join forces with her family. She offers to adopt them and provide them with a home and family. When Amy and Dan refuse, Isabel has them strapped into chairs and put in the path of a spinning propeller. Dan is only inches from it when Professor Bardsley comes to their rescue. Before they escape, however, Dan grabs a green vial he believes to be a special serum created by Isabel.

Professor Bardsley prepares for a flight to Mozambique, but on the way, Dan spills the contents of the vial on his leg. It's not a serum, but a poison that quickly threatens Dan's life. They detour to Grace's home in Madagascar, where Professor Bardsley provides an antidote made out of aloe. While recovering, Dan unscrambles the words in Churchill's letter and learns of their mistake in assuming "diamond" was the Tomas clue. The clue Churchill referred to was "aloe," the vine that had been wrapped around the box and the main ingredient in the antidote saving Dan's life.

Amy reads one of Grace's notebooks and with the added help of some sheet music, learns that their family line is Madrigal.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

There is a casual reference to omens. The children continue in their belief that no one is to be trusted. There is much talk of Zulu spirituality, including the belief in someone being able to take your soul.

Authority Roles

Nellie continues to confuse the children. She doesn't question their whereabouts and provides access to money and credit cards indiscriminately. She is always plugged into her iPod, listening to punk music. She seems slightly offended when Amy and Dan admit their suspicions to her. Isabel Kabra continues in her quest to destroy the kids. She sees them as her only threat in the hunt for the clues. She plans to poison Amy and Dan and then offers to adopt them as her own. The children know she is evil but are still surprised at the extent she will go to get what she wants. Professor Bardsley is a friend of Grace Cahill's. He has formed a team of spies who work for good in South Africa. He provides all the clues for the children upon their arrival in Pretoria. He works undercover as a music professor; all of his "students" were previously Tomases. The librarian at Constitution Hill informs him of the children's keen interest in Winston Churchill. Bardsley disappears after delivering Amy, Dan and Nellie to Madagascar.


"OMG" and "What the __?" are both used once. Isabel refers to the Holts as dimwits. There are two references to someone passing gas. Nellie tells the kids that she had a brain fart and refers to herself as a stupid au pair. Eisenhower calls Dan a brat. Dan notices how the girls turn into "blithering idiots" at the sight of a boy. Zulu war techniques and death tactics are discussed. The children learn how the Zulus would put their enemies on stakes and then plant them like trees. They would shish kebab their enemies and kill them with head twists. Isabel Kabra threatens to chop up the children with a propeller because they refuse to join forces with her.


Nellie refers to a boy as hot; Amy gets tongue-tied at the sight of him.

Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments/Notes

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

9 to 12


Peter Lerangis






Record Label



Scholastic Inc.


On Video

Year Published





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