Countdown Zero: Codename Conspiracy Series, Book 2

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Countdown Zero: Codename Conspiracy Series, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Gripping, well-grounded sequel in fun kid-spy series.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Mount Rushmore is a key setting, providing a glimpse of the monument and environs, along with some information about how it was created.

Positive Messages

Sometimes individual needs must be set aside for bigger concerns. Small actors can play major roles, even when the odds seem overwhelming. Trust and faith aren't always easy, but a good friend can be an invaluable support.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Carson consistently chooses the path that benefits the greater good, but he's deeply unhappy about having to lie to his friends. He expresses regret for some of the damage done by his pranks and readily accepts consequences for his actions. His friends are loyal and resourceful. Adult mentors are courageous but not blindly so; they show fear and worry. 

Violence & Scariness

Middle school children are frequently in peril, facing guns, explosives, dangerous animals, and a deadly virus. Adults are gravely wounded. An adult relates the story of a man cutting off his own leg to survive, and another tells a gross campfire story involving lots of blood and guts. Brief references to seemingly dead bodies.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Countdown Zero, by Chris Rylander (The Fourth Stall), is less violent than Codename Zero, which kicked off the Countdown Conspiracy series, but it's still thrillingly packed with danger. The violence this time around is cartoonish -- a brain-eating virus, a pit of dangerous snakes -- but the sense of peril is sometimes intense. Some characters are seriously wounded, and some die. The hero's strong moral compass ensures this is more than an action-packed thrill ride.

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What's the story?

Carson Fender is back … to being bored. A brief stint as a seventh-grade secret agent spiced things up, but even coming up with an interesting prank is hard to do after you've saved the world. Be careful what you wish for: Carson learns one of his mentors at the super secret Agency is in mortal danger. He wants to help, but to save Agent Nineteen (and the world, again), he must betray his friends' trust and face extraordinary peril -- not the least of which involves scaling Mount Rushmore and breaking into a top-secret government facility.

Is it any good?

COUNTDOWN ZERO picks up a few months after Carson (aka Agent Zero) returns to civilian life but jumps right into the action with a very funny "Prankpocalypse" mission. Author Chris Rylander uses classic spy-genre tricks (patient traitors, convoluted revenge plots, bizarre scenarios) with a strong bent toward silly -- Carson finds himself scaling Mount Rushmore, falling into a snake pit, and sneaking through a bear preserve. Beneath the goofiness, there's a real sense of danger. Carson is neither a smooth James Bond nor a blundering Maxwell Smart: He's smart, but his greatest strengths are resolve and resourcefulness. He's burdened by grown-up concerns and heartsick about lying to friends and seeing those he cares for in dangerous situations.

Some drawn-out action sequences drag a bit and may test readers' patience, but short chapters make it easily digestible for those challenged by long books. 


Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the appeal of secret-identity stories, of superheroes, spies, and other heroes. Why are these so popular?

  • Carson's loyalty to his friends makes it hard for him to dive into his mission. Have you ever had to do something you worried would leave your friends feeling betrayed?

  • If you could lead a double life, would you rather be a secret agent or a superhero -- or maybe a supervillain?

Book details

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