When it comes to the books, here’s what I loved:
The premise: 3 siblings, orphaned under mysterious circumstances, become heirs to an enormous fortune. They soon find themselves pursued from one book to the next by a supposed relative who is intent on getting his hands on their money. Unusual and unfortunate situations ensue.
The characters: The orphans, Violet, Claus, and Sunny Baudelaire, are curious, creative, and tenacious. Although their circumstances deteriorate dramatically, they remain loyal to each other and ever-optimistic. But they are also powerless, and in this embody most children, caught in a world where all the rules are dictated by adults. The scene stealer among the characters is, however, Count Olaf, their determined antagonist. He is completely off-kilter and inventive in utterly wicked and whacky ways.
The narrative gimmick: The entire story is supposedly authored and narrated by an elusive Mr. Lemony Snicket. Snicket tries to dissuade readers from following the “unfortunate” story of the Baudelaires, but of course this only serves to whet readers’ appetites. Along the way, he drops hints of his own mysterious connection to the story, further drawing readers into the plot.
The mood: The mood and tone are unusually dark for a children’s series. I found it verging on sadistic at times, but many readers young and old find the tone to be a refreshing deviation from typical, kid fare.
The dark humor: One simply has to admire the consistence of arch tone and over-the-top, gothic humor throughout the series.
The word play: Endless play on words – puns, definitions, malapropisms, misunderstandings, double-entendres, mysterious acronyms, and coded language…And despite all this linguistic sophistication, the books still succeed in being easy reads.
In brief, there is a lot to enjoy.
But while many of the books were a blast, I found the end to be quite a bust. I was left with the sense that author Daniel Handler came up with the idea of writing 13 books about a family of unlucky children – emphasis on the unlucky 13 – without giving as much thought to how to sustain and elegantly conclude the plot through said 13. Somewhere in the middle, the series starts to get very repetitive, and you can almost feel the author struggling to get to the finish line. To sustain interest, he introduces red herrings, and the series ends in existential hocus-pocus, resolving few if any of the mysteries, and absolving the author of much responsibility to his young readers.
THAT SAID, It is still a good series to dip into for all the reasons I mentioned at the beginning.
If you are unsure about the books for your young reader, hang on! There are still other ways to digest and enjoy:
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