Eleven months and several life-threatening adventures into his spy training, 13-year-old Benjamin Ripley is being activated as a primary agent on his first official mission.
Ben, his not-so-secret crush, Erica Hale, and a host of their fellow classmates from the CIA’s Academy of Espionage are being sent to Vail, Colorado, over winter break to gather intel on Leo Shang, a Chinese billionaire businessman and potential nefarious mastermind with his sights set on the United States. To do this, Ben must befriend Shang’s daughter, Jessica, at ski school, which seems easy enough until his handsome best friend from home turns up unexpectedly and inadvertently threatens to ruin the entire plan and blow Ben’s cover. Fans of the series will enjoy spending time with Ben, Erica, and a host of secondary characters that are finally given a chance to shine, most notably Ben’s friend Mike. With the exception of Jessica Shang and presumably Ben’s classmate Jawaharlal O’Shea, it appears to be a mostly white bunch, but they certainly do add to the fun. As this funny and familiar entry opts to focus on the burgeoning love triangles, the series’ signature fast-paced action is saved predominately for the last quarter of the novel.
The balance between romance and action misses the mark slightly, but ultimately, readers will be glad they strapped on their boots and went along for the ride. (Adventure. 8-12)