Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Mysterious Benedict Society solves its mysteries

The Mysterious Benedict Society is a series of books about four extraordinary kids who are recruited by an eccentric but benevolent genius to help save the world. Their adventures are filled with riddles and puzzles set in an off kilter world, giving me some idea of what a crossover between A Series of Unfortunate Events and Professor Layton would be like.

The first book, The Mysterious Benedict Society, describes how the kids are brought together and uncover a conspiracy to take over the world. In the Perilous Journey, they go on a madcap journey to rescue their kidnapped benefactor. And in the Prisoner’s Dilemma, they have their final confrontation with the bad guy.

Yeah, I’m trying to avoid spoilers.

The four kids make me think of comic book superheroes. They each have a special ability and a quirk/flaw. Reynie is practically Sherlock Holmes but struggles to have faith in humanity. (As opposed to Holmes who sometimes doesn’t bother :D) Sticky is a walking encyclopedia but has crippling self doubt. Kate has all the physical skills of Batman but very poor impulse control. And Constance is a mutant and a brat. They’re fun but flat characters.

By the end of the series, my favorite character was Constance because she ended up the most developed. The books explore and explain why she is such a brat without absolving her of being a brat.

It was really hard not to notice the clear influence of A Series of Unfortunate Events and the author noted that people compared how books to that series and The Secret Series by Pseudononimous Bosch.

And, I’m not going to lie, as an adult, I liked both of the other series more. The Mysterious Benedict Society is fun but it isn’t as deep and interesting, particularly compared to A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Part of what made the Lemony Snicket books so strong was how dedicated they were to their Kafkaesque sensibilities. Both for the characters and the readers. The Baudelaire orphans live in a world that is openly malicious and the best they can hope for from an adult is that they will be useless and ineffective. And we the readers never truly get to find out what’s going on. We are just as lost as the Baudelaires.

In comparison, everything gets neatly explained and wrapped up in the Mysterious Benedict Society. And as opposed to useless or malicious grownups, the kids have loving family support networks. And Mr Benedict and his associates are basically adult versions of the kids, super heroes in their own right :D

In fact, because it was a more conventional story, the kooky setting of the Mysterious Benedict Society actually strained my suspension of disbelief. Weaponized office supplies are a neat symbol but I kept wondering why the bad guys never use guns.

While I prefer A Series of Unfortunate Events, I would give the Mysterious Benedict Society to a younger child first. I think it would be easier for a seven-year-old to handle. An eight year old, I might change my mind.

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