Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Mysterious Benedict Society
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey

by Trenton Lee Stewart

There is a website.
There is a Wikipedia page, but I don't think it's very good.
Of course, Amazon's page has lots of customer reviews.
There's even a third book due in October (available for pre-order now).

So what's all the fuss about? This series-in-the-making features four unusual children, lots of logic puzzles, action and adventure, interesting supporting characters and a strong dose of whimsy. I'm not surprised it's popular. When I read the first book, I had a feeling of deja-vu before I realized that it vibes a lot like the Lemony Snickett books. And all of a sudden I thought, "Voracious reader boy character? Check. Inventive female character? Check. Small but stubborn and precocious child? Check." There is, in addition, a boy with photographic memory and an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure facts; interestingly, he's the only one of the four who isn't an orphan.

There's also something about the general tone that reminds me of the Series of Unfortunate Events. The difference being that I could stand to read these two books, even though one of them is about as long as four or five of the Lemony Snickett. They're not so unremittingly sombre, for one thing, and perhaps less predictable in that things go right more often than they go wrong, but at any given point they could go either way.

There are also shades of Harry Potter in the strong emphasis on ethics and compassion. Just as Harry Potter lets an enemy escape rather than kill in anger, the protagonists in these books, while not shying away from conflict or violence when necessary, refuse to kill. In general, though, there is more trickery than fighting, making them much more readable for people like myself. And of course this sustains the narrative, since the main villain always escapes to menace another day.

I plan to give these books to my children for summer reading. I think they'll enjoy them, and look forward to reading the third this fall. I'll probably read the third one, too. These books are well-written, the characters are varied and interesting, and I know my kids will enjoy the puzzles and their solutions. Not great literature, but very enjoyable, I would recommend these books to anyone.



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