Title: A Series of Unfortunate Events (Books 1-13)
Author: Lemony Snicket
Published by: HarperCollins
My Rating: ✭✭✭✭✭
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket is a great book series. Fantastic writing and an amazing storytelling voice! They were definitely fun books to read. *MINOR SPOILERS*
Plot: This is the story. The three Baudelaire children—Violet, Klaus, and Sunny—live in a mansion with their parents. At least, they did—in the first chapter, they are at the seashore by themselves when Mr. Poe, a family friend, comes and tells them their parents have perished in a fire that destroyed their home. The children are then placed in the care of Count Olaf, who is intent on one thing and that one thing is NOT raising orphans. It is getting the children’s fortune their parents left behind. And he will do that in any means necessary. The children do have some advantages: Violet is the best fourteen year old inventor. Klaus, who is 12, has read tons of books and he remembers everything he reads. And Sunny, who is just an infant, is known for her amazing biting skills. But Count Olaf is their guardian, and has help from his whole acting troupe of vicious people—a hook-handed man, a bald man with a long nose, a person who looks neither man nor woman, and two white-faced women.
After that, the children go from one home to the next. They have good guardians and bad ones. The one thing that remains the same is Count Olaf shows up in every book, in ridiculous-but-clever disguises, from Coach Genghis to Shirley the Receptionist to Detective Dupin. By the eighth book, the orphans are on their own, going from one place to the next, trying to figure out the secret of V.F.D. and the secret of their own lives.
Notes: There are a couple misunderstandings, I believe, from these books. One thing is, Lemony Snicket puts a lot of definitions in. Some don’t like this because they think that he is treating readers like little kids by explaining some big words for them, but I believe that’s not true. The definitions aren’t meant to explain words; they’re part of the story. If you read the definitions correctly, most of them aren’t right from the dictionary; they aren’t meant to be. They are meant to add humor to the story and to get the point across. I would see that if he gave every word a definition it might get annoying, but there are never two definitions on the same page. There aren’t even two definitions on two pages. There’s a good distance between each one.
Also, as I said before, it adds a bit of dry humor to the book. For example: on page 13 of The Bad Beginning it reads, ‘...over a dull dinner of boiled chicken, boiled potatoes and blanched—the word “blanched” here means “boiled”—string beans...’ Lemony Snicket didn’t define “blanched” as “boiled” simply because he didn’t think the readers wouldn’t know what it meant. He did it because it was creative and funny way to say that, in short, they had a completely boiled dinner, and it also helps to pronounce better the fact they had very boring and dull dinners in the Poe household. That is just his style.
Writing: Something else that I love about the whole series is, Lemony Snicket is so mysterious in his writing that he makes it sound as if the story is true. I’m not sure exactly how many times this happens in the first book, but I know it happens a lot on the later books: he switches over to first person, with the ‘I’ being himself. Only for a paragraph or less; but he makes it so convincing and very mysterious. Lemony Snicket talks about the places as if they once existed, as if they are still here, as if the Baudelaires are real people. A great storytelling method, in my opinion. Some people may find it annoying because he often interrupts the story, but for me, it’s one of the things I love about A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Snicket warns you, too, from the first sentence in The Bad Beginning that it isn’t a happy story and that is completely true. It is fabulous writing and fabulous storytelling but the story itself is “rife with misfortune, misery, and despair.” However, I wouldn’t call it a sad story. It’s more like this: so many horrible things happen that it’s almost funny. Everything bad that can happen to these kids (besides being physically injured) has happened to them. They almost die several times throughout the series as well—and that’s another thing I wanted to say.
During the whole series, horrible things happen and people do die. But the thing is: there is nothing gory or bad when this happens. When someone dies Snicket doesn’t go into detail. He doesn’t even say that so-and-so died straight out. He says other things that make it clear what happened. I also note I have only seen one bad word in the series, in book 2, and it was used by Count Olaf, and afterwords, Snicket basically apologized for Count Olaf’s language. Remember that Lemony Snicket is writing as if it is a true story and he wants it to seem as realistic as possible. Other than that, though, it is clear of any bad words.
There is only thing I must warn you of and that is: you will have a lot of questions when you are reading the series, and most of them will not be answered straight out. I think that if you study the series close enough, and read the extras from the website close enough, you can figure it out, but you can’t just flip through it and figure it out.
To end this review: I think it is a wholesome, fun book, though a lot of scary things happen. I would recommend not just The Bad Beginning but the whole series to anyone ages 8 & up. I love Lemony Snicket’s writing style and the mystery element, but I must warn you, just like the first page says: there is no happy ending. The entire book is full of misfortune— “misfortune,” here meaning “lots of unfortunateness for the Baudelaire orphans.” ;)