A Series of Unfortified Reviews – Parts 1 & 2

books, reviews

I never read Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events when I was younger. I remember seeing it in bookshops all the time but I never picked it up. Even when the film adaptation came out, I wasn’t really bothered by it. It wasn’t until I watched the Netflix series that I was interested in reading the books. The show was so well made and so much fun. So, I started thinking about reading the series. Of course, as my TBR is currently huge, I didn’t actually do anything about it. Not until I needed to cross off a couple of letters on my February Spell the Month Challenge. I knew that I’d be able to get the first 2 books finished in time and get the letter B and an R sorted before the month ended. It seems to make sense that I review these together, so consider this the first in Motherbooker’s A Series of Unfortified Reviews. Disclaimer, you’ll probably forget them in no time.

The Bad Beginning

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I guess this series of books really does give itself a lot to live up to. The stories are described by their author/narrator, Lemony Snicket, as being full of dreadful things. The events retold within the pages of these books will, we are informed, haunt you forever. Considering so much children’s literature is preoccupied with fairy tales and happy endings, it’s not wonder that the series stands out. But could this story really be as horrific as we were promised? I guess if you were a child then maybe. After all, the three orphans who we are introduced to are definitely put into plenty of dangerous situations.

After their parents die in a fire, Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire are left in the care of Mr Poe. He is the executor of their parents’ estate and he is given the task of finding them a suitable home. Unfortunately, the orphans’ closest living relative is the mysterious Count Olaf. Their new life doesn’t get off the to the best starts and their new father figure turns out to be a very evil man. Intent on stealing the trio’s fortune, Count Olaf is plotting how best to take their money and dispose of the siblings. Can the Baudelaires find a way out of Count Olaf’s house before it’s too late?

I know that I’m not exactly the right audience for these books, so it wasn’t really shocking that the story didn’t put me on edge. Is there enough villainy to potentially scare a younger reader? Possibly. Count Olaf is attempting to murder innocent children, which is an undoubtedly horrific prospect. However, these books are more about than just scarring children for life. They are the antithesis of children’s literature that attempts to shield their readers from the real world. It’s a series that isn’t afraid to show children that people are complex and that death is an unescapable part of life. Yet, it does so in a fun and engaging way.

These books are a joy to read and the pace is quick enough to keep hold of younger attention spans. They are also incredibly clever books. This is a great example of postmodern writing and the approach is much more literary than many children’s book authors would ever attempt. The metanarrative and the format of the books are very memorable. It gives the basic story another level. The book feels quite experimental yet they are actually pretty traditional. After all, the original fairy tales were all incredibly gruesome and full of violence. This is a book written by someone who knows the importance of reading and who wants to get more children reading. It’s brilliant.

The Reptile Room

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The second book in the series is much the same as the first. The Baudelaire orphans are shipped off to stay with another guardian by the inept Mr Poe. This time it is a Doctor Montgomery Montgomery. Monty is a herpetologist and the titular room is where he houses all of the species he finds. Initially, the children don’t trust Monty but, as they work alongside him, they realise that they could be quite satisfied living with him. With the Doctor all set to take the trio on an expedition to Peru, it would appear that their life is finally going to have a happy ending. That is until Monty’s new assistant Stefano turns up and the orphans are faced with a familiar figure. Can they stop Stefano before he does something terrible? Or is their new life about to destroyed as well?

In terms of the writing and the format of the sequel, everything is on par with the first book. The postmodern twist is still there to keep things interesting and there is plenty of humour within the tragedy. Montgomery Montgomery is a pleasingly absurd character and his house is wonderful. It’s also a nice change to have a few moments of happiness to counterbalance with the pervious installment. Of course, we know from the narrative that it won’t last for long. There are no major surprises within this book as Lemony Snicket is keen to warn us of what’s to come. That’s not to say that it isn’t enjoyable. Instead, the book focuses on making the journey as much fun as possible.

The sequel keeps going at the same fast pace as the previous one, which I thought was a bit of a shame. It would have been good to spend a bit more time in Monty’s world and exploring more of his life. Getting to know more about him as a character and taking a moment to breath a little. Instead, everything happens quite quickly and you wonder why certain moments were included at all. Obviously these book are pretty formulaic at heart but I think that’s a good thing for the reader. They have more of an episodic feel and it gives younger readers more chance to get to grips with the more complex ideas/language.

I definitely enjoyed this books but I don’t think it helped that I’d watched the series first. I think the character of Uncle Monty, as played by Aasif Mandvi in the Netflix series, was brilliant. I also enjoyed the expanded plot lines that were added to bulk the episode out. It just felt more developed. Reading the book after that meant it felt a tad disappointing. There wasn’t quite as much excitement or adventure. The trio enact their plan to stop Stefano but it only lasts for a couple of pages. Everything just happens so quickly. Though, I understand that this is a book written for younger readers, so I shouldn’t complain. It’s as much fun to read as the first.

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