A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Fabergé eggs, hexadecimal color codes, mathematical skills, the difference between tactics and strategy, and phrases like "hyperparanoid levels of encryption" are all part of the fun here. Lots of local detail, food and language as the City Spies travel to Moscow and Beijing. The plot centers on a global chess tournament, so there's a wealth of detail about chess, chess moves, and competitions. Brooklyn's coding and Kat's math skills play a strong role.
Strong messages of family (now that the kids have been legally adopted by their MI6 mentor, there are lots of discoveries, and issues to work through), friendship, teamwork, respect for your opponents. Also diversity, both of background/culture/ethnicity and of skills and talents -- and how it all can work together really well. Be willing to accept help, especially when it will let you to do something more effectively. Espionage, burglary, break-ins, and other sneaky operations are central to the plot.
Positive Role Models
There are villains aplenty, as the City Spies pit themselves against several hostile governments, a global crime syndicate, a gazillionaire who's up to no good. But their talents and the bonds they've forged over previous adventures serve them well -- both on spy missions and in moments of relatable tween/teen life issues. Fifteen-year-old Rwanda-born chess prodigy Paris takes the lead here, interacting with peers from around the world. But everyone on the team gets their moment to shine -- and also to learn. Mother (who's a guy, as well as an MI6 agent, whose spy wife has vanished with their children, and who has adopted the City Spies kids in the wake of Book 2), grapples with the responsibility of being a loving parent to kids who have never known one. Other adult mentors (including the occasional reformed criminal) also offer support.
The City Spies, named after the cities where they were recruited, come from diverse backgrounds: Paris, the oldest, was born in Rwanda, Sydney in Australia, Brooklyn in Puerto Rico, Rio in Brazil, and Kat in Nepal. In addition, each brings a unique set of skills to the mission -- in this story, Paris' chess skills are front and center, but Sydney's planning, Rio's sleight of hand, Kat's pattern recognition talent, and Brooklyn's coding prowess also play an important role.
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Violence & Scariness
Besides the theft of six nuclear warheads by a crime syndicate, the story involves a North Korean nuclear physicist and his chess prodigy son, who want to defect and are being pursued by the crime syndicate as well as several governments. They are heavily guarded and face death if returned to North Korea. Occasional scenes of gun-brandishing and other weapons as kid and adult characters face danger and imprisonment.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Forbidden City is the third installment of James Ponti's City Spies series, which features a diverse cast of 12- to 15-year-old characters with an equally diverse range of talents, working as a special team for British spy agency MI6. The mission here involves a heavily guarded nuclear physicist from North Korea, and MI6's plans to help him defect to the West, along with his teen chess prodigy son. North Korea's perfectly prepared to kill them both to keep them away from the many agencies -- including a nuke-stealing crime syndicate -- who want them. There's peril aplenty, but also strong teamwork and clever use of skills. Fifteen-year-old Rwanda-born Paris is a chess prodigy whose skills become part of the mission, taking the team to international tournaments in Moscow and Beijing. In the process, there's lots of chess lore that will especially interest chess-loving kids. In between thrilling spy adventures, characters deal with regular life issues, like misunderstandings between friends and how to fix them, and also how to be a family.
Is It Any Good?
In their latest perilous outing, James Ponti's diverse, multitalented young spies take on several governments and a crime syndicate, infiltrating a chess tournament to help a scientist and his son defect. And stay alive. As their travels take them to the Forbidden City in Beijing, all their skills come into play, from chess to math to strategic planning. Along the way, they're also helping each other with a lot of relatable life issues, as here, where Brooklyn (Puerto Rican computer genius) is bumming at being left behind on a mission, and Nepali math prodigy Kat, who's usually not known for her social skills, weighs in with a bit of wisdom.
"'Were you upset when we had a mission in Paris and you were given the lead role, even though you had the least experience?'
"'Well, that was because it involved computers and -- '
"'Or were you upset when we all went to London to break into Reginald Banks's house but Rio stayed home with Monty?'
"Brooklyn squirmed. 'No ... but ... those were all ... different.'
"'Of course they were,' said Kat. 'They were different because you weren't the one left behind. We're like a theater company. Every play has distinct roles. Sometimes you're the star. Sometimes you're a supporting role. And sometimes...'
"'You work in the box office selling tickets,' Brooklyn said."
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.