A Series of Unfortunate Events is a series of books by Daniel Handler, written under his pen name of Lemony Snicket. The series tells the story of Baudelaire siblings, who are going to inherit their parents fortune in the future, and count Olaf, who wishes to get to that fortune at any cost.
The series has total thirteen books, published from 1999 to 2006. There is a film, a TV series, and even a video game, but the focus of this review will be the books. Incidentally, the first book was published just two months after I was born.
After their parents die in a fire at the family mansion, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire remain in the care of Count Olaf. As their sinister distant relative, Olaf wants the Baudelaire family fortune, which the children will inherit when Violet turns 18. Throughout the first few books in the series, the children are sent from one caretaker to another, each one more eccentric and troubled than the last. Count Olaf is following them in a series of Paper-Thin Disguises that only the children immediately see through. Eventually, the children must strike out on their own to discover their family’s dark secret – their parents’ connection to a mysterious organization. Everywhere, bizarre and improbable disasters strike the children and everyone around them for no discernible reason.
The first book is called the Bad Beginning, and it lives up to its title. Half way to the book, if you’re an emotional reader, you might even think of actually listening to Lemony Snicket, and put down the book.
Though it is just the first book, I can’t help but notice how foolish adults are in this book. Seriously, if internet exists in this world, they should be scammed every day. Let’s recount the incidents of foolishness from the first book. First, Mr. Poe, the banker who executed Baudelaire parent’s will, doesn’t listen to them when the children actually tell him about Olaf and his schemes. Justice Strauss, a judge, is easily convinced to act in a play by Olaf, and doesn’t even think about children’s warnings when they come to her. One would think she would be much smarter than this for being a judge, but I suppose that’s not necessary to become a judge.
Another thing to notice is that Mr. Poe doesn’t even realizes Olaf’s intentions, given how he mentions the fortune of the Baudelaire children on their very first meeting. I mean come on dude. That is a huge red flag right there.
But believe it or not, I can see this happening in the real life. Children should be seen, but not heard. And no one likes the orphan children anyway.
The second book is called The Reptile Room. The siblings are taken to their uncle named Monty (I can’t remember his actual name) who is a reptile specialist. However, just when the siblings are getting used to the life here, Count Olaf comes in the disguise of Stephano, the assistant. Naturally, Lemony warns us repeatedly that we should not get used to the happy events lasting for too long.
I like this book for actually presenting reptiles in a positive light for a change, unlike most media which turns them into villains. Of course, the Count escapes once more, and I don’t consider it a spoiler. At the end of the book, the Baudelaire siblings wave their reptile friends goodbye, which was a great emotional scene.
Third book is titled The Wide Window, in which Mr. Poe drops the Baudelaire siblings to their aunt named Josephine, who is another distant relative of theirs. The hell is up with the close relatives of these children?
Aunt Josephine is afraid of everything. She doesn’t turn on the radiator, because it might explode. Doesn’t talk on a telephone, because of the chance of getting electrocuted. Doesn’t use the doorknob, because it might shatter into millions of pieces, and one of them might struck at her eye.
Count Olaf uses the disguise of captain Sham, and I feel he was literally mocking people with that name. Mr. Poe, aside from actually leaving children with questionable guardians, causes problems for them indirectly, as he told aunt Josephine that the children tend to see Olaf everywhere. After this, no matter how hard they try, they can’t convince Josephine of the truth, which just repeats the cycle of the previous book. Naturally, it doesn’t take long for Olaf to murder her.
…or not. Really, I shouldn’t believe everything which happens in this book. Lemony doesn’t help any through his narration. Apparently, she actually cooked up a great plan to protect herself, and left instructions for the children to follow and track her down regardless of the danger they faced. Though uncle Monty liked snakes, and trusted Olaf very easily, I do think he was a better guardian than Josephine.
Not that she doesn’t get killed. And you know that I have a sadistic side? Yeah, it came out, and didn’t gave a damn about her death. How can I argue with the sadist within me, when she didn’t do a single thing to endear herself to the reader?
Count Olaf takes another step-in evil in this book. In the previous book, he murdered Monty and only showed the children his body. But here, he actually threw Josephine in the lake, where leaches devoured her, all done in front of the children. It is a mercy that they did not see that gruesome scene in its entirety.
Fourth book is titled The Miserable Mill. This time, the orphans are shifted to the owner of a mill, who is named Sir because his name is unpronounceable. Once more, Mr. Poe proves to be an idiot. He didn’t even meet the guardian this time, and left the children on their own. He is more concerned by his recent promotion. The guy like him can get a promotion, while I’m sitting unemployed… ahem.
Instead of being treated with love, the Baudelaires are used as a labor in the mill. Sir has a partner, who is a partner partner, which is beyond a business partner, if you get my drift. And he is a total doormat. So, no help from that corner for the baudelairs. I was most concerned for Sunny in this book, since a mill is hardly a safe place for a two-years old kid. But then again, the entire life she has so far is rather concerning.
Book five is called The Austere Academy, and it takes place in a boarding school. You can guess where this is going, can’t you? a boarding school is hardly going to be a safe place for these children, and we’re talking about a fictional one here. I have real experience with boarding school, which totally has not left me bitter. Certainly not enough that I would rant about in a book review. What are you talking about? I have no bitterness. You hear me?
We get introduced to the vice principal of this academy (I don’t care to remember its name) and let me tell you. he is a real piece of work. Not only he loves to torture violin, but he was just cruel to the siblings for no reason at all. He is lucky that he isn’t in some fantasy world with antiheroes as protagonists. He would have been murdered sooner or later otherwise.
The Baudelaires get introduced to Quagmire triplets, who lost their brother, and get confused as twins. These five strike a nice friendship, which of course, doesn’t have a happy ending. This is not to say they end up fighting each other. But I’ll leave their misfortune for you to read, if you choose to pick this book.
Be warned though, these books are getting larger.
Book 6 is called The Ersatz Elevator, and immediately in the chapter 1, I feel homicidal rage coming. Mr. Poe, the idiot is promoted once more, this time reaching the position of vice president. Apparently, he is also in charge of all the affairs of orphan children of the bank’s clients.
The public in general already has low opinion of bankers. Reading this book is not doing their reputation any favors. My snark aside, this book is larger than book five, continuing the trend of larger books and more misfortune.
Book 7 is titled The Vile Village. This time, through some program, the Baudelaires are put in a village where the entire village is their guardian. One would think this’ll be great, but it turns out not to be. The whole village has strange and dangerous rules, and the siblings have to do chores of everyone, which is hardly fair in my opinion since they have to do the chores assigned by a whole village instead of one person.
For the third book in the row, Mr. Poe failed to even meet the guardians in question. he is more concerned about his photo in the newspaper instead.
This book is a sharp departure from the formula, for this time Poe didn’t come at the end of the book, and the siblings are declared murderers in the news. Unlike in previous books, they leave, determine to survive on their own.
The Hostile Hospital is the 8th book in this series, and what can I say aside from that it is much darker than the previous books (If that is even possible.) By dark, I don’t mean death and destruction. By dark, I mean the mood and the situation of the Baudelaires. The situation is so bad that they have no one else to contact, since everyone thinks they are murderers just because some newspaper says so.
Even Mr. Poe fails to contact them, granted, he wouldn’t be much of a help. I sometimes wonder how the hell he has a family?
Book nine is called The Carnivorous Carnival, and this is the largest book so far in the series, beating out the previous books in the word count department. Also, this book contains Snicket’s accurate commentary regarding interviews. For that alone, it is worth reading in my opinion. Naturally, the carnival is not any place to have fun. You’re better off in your home relaxing like a king.
Book 10 is called Slippery Slope, and the title is apt for two reasons. the entire book takes place in a mountainous area, and the Baudelaires have to struggle not to cross any lines.
The villains are quite lucky that they are not facing antiheroes. The body count would have been high otherwise.
Sunny was kidnapped at the end of the last book, and Klaus and Violet spend most of this book trying to rescue her. They succeed, but of course, the price is heavy. They find one of the quagmire Triplets, the one who was thought dead. But they lose him, and his fate is unconfirmed.
Book 11 is The Grim Grotto. In this book, the Baudelaires try to find the Sugar bowl, about which they talked in the last book, and even blackmailed Olaf. We also get to see two sides of V.F.D, one side with count Olaf and his superiors, and other side is… rag-tag bunch of misfits… maybe. This whole thing is way too confusing for a dumb reader like me.
Book 12 is titled The Penultimate Peril, where the Baudelaires have to go into a hotel, where the meeting of V.F.D. is about to take place. Lots of old characters return, at least those who can, since a lot of people died in the previous books. At the end of the book, the hotel in question is burned down.
Book 13 is simply called The End. After Baudelaires escape in a boat with Olaf in the last book from the burning hotel, they end up in an island. Here Ishmael rules, who is not aligned with Olaf for a change. Speaking of Olaf, things are really out of control for him in the last few books. Though I’m happy that he dumped that Squalor woman.
Now, let’s answer the question. are these books worth reading?
I think yes, they are. True, it makes me furious that so many bad events happen, and so many horrible people get away with their crimes. But let’s be honest here, outside of the stories, same things happen in the real world as well. I do think you will end up thinking “Its too dark and sad, stopped caring!” at some point.
I’m also tempted to give this series to a kid, and make them read it, no matter how much they protest. Because I’m horrible like that. I feel that is a great way to start a cynical streak within them, which is much better way of teaching how world is not always roses and flowers as opposed to child abuse.
So, give these books a chance, don’t be turned off by the “For the kids” label. As an adult, you are likely to appreciate this series more than a kid.