A Series of Unfortunate Events 7-9

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels [here] and [here].

A Series of Unfortunate Events is a series of darkly humorous novels which focus on the miserable and dangerous lives of Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire – three orphans who are relentlessly hunted by the greedy Count Olaf who will stop at nothing to get their inherited fortune. The series was written by Lemony Snicket and consists of thirteen novels – The Bad Beginning (1999), The Reptile Room (1999), The Wide Window (2000), The Miserable Mill (2000), The Austere Academy (2000), The Ersatz Elevator (2001), The Vile Village (2001), The Hostile Hospital (2001), The Carnivorous Carnival (2002), The Slippery Slope (2003), The Grim Grotto (2004), The Penultimate Peril (2005) and The End (2006). For the purpose of this review, I’ll be looking at books 7 to 9 only.

In The Vile Village, the Baudelaires this time find themselves adopted by the strange village of VFD. They are initially convinced that this must have some connection to the deaths of their parents, but it quickly becomes apparent that it’s just a town of strange, elderly people who stick rigidly to their contradictory rules. However, when the children receive a message from the Quagmire Triplets, it becomes clear that something more is afoot. It’s not long before the villagers capture a man that they believe to be Olaf. The Baudelaires immediately realise that the man – Jacques Snicket – is innocent, but can they prove it before the villagers have him executed?

In The Hostile Hospital, the Baudelaires find themselves accused of the death of Count Olaf and are forced to flee. They arrive at a half-built hospital and discover that the building’s Hall of Records may contain a file about their parents. However, when Olaf and his crew manage to capture Violet, the children find themselves in greater danger than ever before. Olaf plans to murder Violet during a public medical procedure. How will Klaus and Sunny manage to get her to safety, when the entire hospital is watching?

In The Carnivorous Carnival, the Baudelaires hide in Olaf’s car and find themselves at a sideshow in the desert. Disguising themselves as freaks, they accept jobs in the carnival while they look for a way to escape from Olaf and his henchpeople. However, they soon learn that Madam Lulu, the carnival fortune teller, has been feeding Olaf information about their whereabouts. If the woman really is psychic, it can’t be long before she realises who the new freaks really are. The children know they need to find a way to escape, but not before they find out exact what Madam Lulu can tell them about the VFD… 

On starting to read The Vile Village, the first thing that really struck me was how little this series has changed. A Series of Unfortunate Events has fallen into a bit of a rut, with each of the stories following exactly the same pattern. Mr Poe finds a “suitable” home for the children. The children discover that the home is not quite as nice as it may have first seemed. Count Olaf shows up in a disguise that the children can see through, but no adults can. Olaf makes their lives miserable, usually murdering a couple of people in the process. The children outwit Olaf and force him to flee, while they are taken away by Mr Poe again.

However, this is where the series takes an interesting turn. Instead of having the inevitable unmasking of Olaf, he actually manages to outsmart the Baudelaires this time. While in the disguise of the famous Detective Dupin, he frames them for the murder of Count Olaf (really Jacques Snicket) and thus adds a fresh twist to the plot. It is the children who are now on the run, with everyone they meet convinced that they must be killers due to the fact that the newspapers can’t be wrong. And, to make matters worse, the fact that everyone now believes that Olaf is dead it gives him a lot more freedom to enact his evil plans.

This causes the series to change in tone drastically. It’s still much the same as it once was in essence – an oddly timeless and gothic series that presents the misery of three orphans in a humorously over-the-top way – but it also adds a fresh lair of morality to the story. The Baudelaires known that they are innocent, but no one else does. They now find themselves in a position where they must do anything they can to survive and clear their names. Even if that means playing Olaf at his own game.

Up until this point, the Baudelaires have largely played by the rules, but The Hostile Hospital shows a shift in their attitudes. In this novel, they are forced to both trick a nice old man to gain access to the Hall of Records and disguise themselves as doctors in order to fool Olaf’s henchpeople (who, like all adults in the series, apparently can’t see through disguises). This also continues into The Carnivorous Carnival with more lies, disguises and even a scene in which the Baudelaires are forced to contemplate murder. I really enjoyed this addition of a moral grey area. This treacherous behaviour has always seemed wicked when Olaf does it, yet now the reader is forced to consider it differently when the Baudelaires begin down this same slippery slope.

However, despite this interesting turn of events, the series is starting to feel as though it is dragging. The VFD was first mentioned back in The Austere Academy and the symbol of the eye has been popping up since The Bad Beginning, yet we are no closer to understanding what they mean. It’s starting to frustrate me how much this series teases the reader. In every book, the children pursue a new VFD related red herring, from Very Fancy Doilies, to the Village of Fowl Devotees, to Volunteers for Fighting Disease. Yet the Baudelaires come not closer to finding out what the acronym does mean.

All they really discover over the course of these three books is that their parents had some kind of connection to both Jacques Snicket and Esme Squalor, and that being good at disguising oneself is integral to being part of the VFD. The characters that they meet who seem like they could tell the children more, like Jacques and Madam Lulu, are naturally killed before they can reveal anything of significance. Really, we’re two thirds of the way through this series now and I’m starting to wonder if we will ever find out what’s going on. The explanations are starting to drag and I truly wish that Snicket would throw his readers some kind of bone.

Yet, for all my frustrations, I am still really enjoying this series. While The Vile Village was a bit of a slow-burner (and very weird), I did thoroughly enjoy both The Hostile Hospital and The Carnivorous Carnival. The series still retains its dry humour, unnecessary explanations and subtle literary references. The running joke about déjà vu in The Carnivorous Carnival especially made me chuckle. I confess, it took me a moment to get it – for a second I though my copy had a misprint!

The colourful characters also still really sell this series. Again, it really is The Carnivorous Carnival where these three novels are at their best. This book features the wonderfully melodramatic Madam Lulu, but it’s the freaks that really steal the show. I don’t think I’m ever likely to forget the horror that is Kevin the Ambidextrous – a monstrously normal individual whose right hand is equally as strong as his left.

Yet the thing I love most about these books is the Baudelaires. It’s hard not to fall in love with three siblings who manage to stick together with such loyalty, even when the whole world seems to be out to get them. With Sunny growing more talkative and independent, there is a real sense that the kids are growing up but they still manage to stay true to themselves when they are forced to do things that they find distasteful. However, hope has never been further away from them. For the first time in this series, The Carnivorous Carnival ends on a cliff-hanger that places one of the children in grave danger. While I don’t generally like cliff-hangers, this one actually does make me want to read on because, in a series such as this, you can never be sure if everything will turn out okay!

So anyway, I guess I’ve said enough. This series is still very funny and is a joy to read for Snicket’s wordplay alone, but the it’s starting to feel a bit repetitive. I’m getting worried that perhaps we will never get a decent explanation of what happened to the Baudelaire’s parents, but I’ve come too far to stop now. Hopefully, The Slippery Slope will furnish us with some answers!

The Vile Village can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

The Hostile Hospital can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

The Carnivorous Carnival can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: A Series of Unfortunate Events 10-12 | Arkham Reviews
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  3. Trackback: A Series of Unfortunate Events 13 | Arkham Reviews
  4. Trackback: The Sobeks 2018 – Part 1 | Arkham Reviews

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