The Copernicus Legacy, Book 2: The Serpent's Curse

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
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Slapdash mystery misses potential.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Kids break numeric codes and solve word puzzles using a scytale staff and their vast knowledge of ciphers. Plenty of historical facts about places the characters visit. Readers will learn about the Saint Sergius monastery in Russia, Venice and its clock tower, labor camps in Siberia, and Lenin's tomb. They'll get a few facts about the Russian leader Duke Vasily III.

Positive Messages

A great sense of awe about invention, discovery, science, and history. A focus on teamwork now that, in Book 2, the characters are more confident about their skills and accept their mission.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The four kids work together well. Becca is great with languages and history, Wade with science and math, Lily with finding information with her tablet, and Darrell with tactical decisions. Wade's dad tries to keep the kids from resorting to real violence against the enemy but doesn't do much to protect them.

Violence

Darrell's mom is kidnapped, drugged, and smuggled from country to country in a coffin as cover, and her life is continuously threatened. Three characters die right in front of the kids, from poisoning, a gunshot wound, and a stab wound. Kids are shot at and chased almost constantly and get in a car accident and a near plane crash and barely escape wolves, a fire, and an explosion. A flashback shows an emotionless man beheading his nephew and kicking his head over a wall with talk of 30 others killed by sword. More talk of past deaths: Wade's uncle in Book 1 and tens of thousands who died in Siberian labor camps. Talk of experiments and surgeries in a monastery ending in death, and talk of how a body is embalmed. 

Sex

Wade has a sweet, innocent crush on Becca.

Language

"Hell," "ass."

Consumerism

Range Rover.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Talk of a man smelling strongly of booze in the morning.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Serpent's Curse is the second in the planned 12-book Copernicus Legacy series that follows four tweens around the world to safeguard artifacts against an ancient and evil criminal organization. Criminals chase the kids and one adult through major cities all over Western Europe and Russia. Though gunfire often erupts near them and there are car crashes and a near plane crash, the kids only get minor injuries. Three minor characters are killed by the bad guys, and one kid's mom is kidnapped and drugged and her life is constantly threatened. Getting to the artifacts the characters need involves solving a series of puzzles as they travel; young readers can figure out the puzzles while they take in some European and Russian history.

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What's the story?

Wade, Wade's dad, his stepbrother Darrell, his cousin Lily, and her friend Becca have just arrived in New York after a hard-won fight for Copernicus' first relic. They've bested Galina Krause and her henchmen, who plan to use the relics against humanity, but, although they have something Galina wants, Galina has something they want more: Darrell's mother, Sara. Galina drugs her and moves her from country to country in a coffin to escape detection, then sets up shop in an eerie abandoned castle in Russia. Instead of using Sara as ransom for the relic, she has worse plans for her, and time will run out for Wade, Dad, and friends if they don't reach her soon. They don't know where Sara is but do know the second relic could help find her and a contact in London can help point them in the right direction. As soon as they meet a large Russian man named Boris, plans go awry. He's poisoned right in front of them, and they're quickly on the run from Galina's henchmen again.

Is it any good?

As with any book where the clock is ticking, this one is in a frantic -- perhaps way too frantic -- rush to jet around the world and solve the mystery. The characters need to save Darrell's mom's life and keep relics away from the bad guys. A lot's at stake. That's all good. Exciting, even. But it's clear that author Tony Abbott is in quite a rush to write Book 2 of a really complex 12-book series (and probably the editors are in a rush to edit), and the result is rather sloppy and disappointing.

It seems as if the story wants to be in first person, but it's kind of in third person with lots of italics for various characters' thoughts that come off as confusing and somehow do less rather than more to inform readers about what the characters are thinking. Some minor characters show up on airplanes -- twice -- and are barely introduced or don't add to the story at all. Scenes aren't properly set up: It's hard to visualize where kids are in Red Square and how they're hiding from the soldiers. And the actual words are euqally rushed: The cliché "black as night" is used twice in about 10 pages. This series has so much for kids to learn, but sadly the novel isn't meeting it's potential. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what they enjoyed learning about the most. Was it geography, codes, and history or where the next artifact was? 

  • Do you enjoy books that mix historical and science fiction with fact? What are the facts about Copernicus' discoveries, and what did the author add?

  • This series is planning 10 more books. Will you keep reading? Where do you think the next artifacts are hidden, and how do you think they fit together?

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