I was not planning on buying this in a bookstore. I paid less than six bucks for the first three combined. However, I was in a bookstore with a former roommate and her brother and husband, and there it was, five days early, sitting unaware on the shelves. That’s a major oops for the bookstore, but seeing it, and having the opportunity to get my hands on it, was too irresistible. So I splurged.
First, what a wonderfully appropriate title. Its play on words certainly gives a hint to the theme of the entire novel, and I think I can say that without giving away too much.
That said, I’ll make this as spoiler-free of a review as possible. It is the second semester of Cammie Morgan’s junior year at the Gallagher Academy, a school for girl spies. She learned before Christmas break that she is targeted by The Circle, an organization that corrupts governments and peoples and has done so for centuries. The novel starts in London, at the Tower of London, with a breach in security. Joe Solomon, one of Cammie’s teachers, comes to give her a message, then jumps from the Tower Bridge before MI6 can catch him, suspected to be a double agent. The novel becomes about right and wrong, loyalty and treachery, and, in the end, the dichotomy of hope.
Sometime I would like to see if I can make a list of boarding school novel tropes. There were moments that echoed back to Harry Potter, but I think it’s sometimes unavoidable in a boarding school setting. The reaction to a favorite teacher being replaced by a hard-nosed, boring teacher was very much like when Snape took over Defense Against the Dark Arts in Half-Blood Prince. A mission the girls take down in Sublevel Two also feels very much like something the trio would have done. It worked, however. I can think back to numerous boarding school movies and books I’ve read, all pre-Potter, that have similar side-plots and circumstances, all of which made similar tropes work. They are not good nor bad, but it did make pieces of the story feel familiar.
The book had a good mix of predictable elements and surprises. There were a few things I knew from the moment the book started, and most readers I think are going to know that Cammie gets some things wrong in the beginning, or perhaps simly too trusting of certain opinions. But it makes her real, makes her a teenager. The finale, though, offers some good twists, especially concerning Mr. Solomon and Zach.
The writing style, while still in the voice of the first three Gallagher Girls books, has a writing style closer to that of her Thieves series, Heist Society. The chapters are short, brisk, more snippets than full scenes. It clips the story along quickly, and means you aren’t bothered when weeks pass between chapters. Given the urgency of this novel, significantly higher than the previous three, I think it worked.
There’s one last thing I want to mention, and it intrigued me more on a writer’s level than on a story level. The last chapter switches from the past tense to the present tense. The chapter begins, “It’s finals week now as I write this.” Suddenly we are another spy, someone who would be reading Cammie’s journal, needing access to the information she has. We’ve caught up with her in time. She’s no longer retelling the story for us, we’re part of the story with her. I’ll be very interested to see if the next book continues in the present tense, or if it returns to the past tense.
So, obviously, I would recommend reading the first three Gallagher Girls novels first, but it’s worth getting to the fourth book. I don’t think there’s any question it’s my favorite in the series. It’s more confident, the voice is older, the pacing perfectly suits the story.