A Series of Unfortunate Events 10-12

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels by clicking the links below:

1-3 | 4-6 | 7-9

Once again, I regret to inform you that I have been forced to delve into the misfortunes and murders that follow in the wake of the Baudelaire siblings…

A Series of Unfortunate Events was written by Lemony Snicket and focuses on the adventures of Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire – three orphans who are struggling to uncover the secret behind their parents’ death whilst avoiding the cunning and ruthless Count Olaf. The series consists of thirteen main novels – The Bad Beginning (1999), The Reptile Room (1999), The Wide Window (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). Snicket has also published a few spin-off stories and the series has been recently adapted into a fantastic Netflix series. For the purpose of this review, I’ll be looking at books 10 to 12 only.

Although the Baudelaire siblings have outwitted Count Olaf time and time again, it seems that this time he has gotten the better of them. Violet and Klaus have found themselves trapped inside a caravan as it winds down a precarious mountain path, helpless to watch as the villain drives away with their little sister. However, help comes to the Baudelaires from an unexpected source. They are soon contacted by someone long presumed dead; someone who is able to finally explain the nature of the VFD.

Yet it is not long before tragedy and misery find the orphans once again. Although they are reunited with Sunny, they find themselves swept away down a raging stream. It is here that they meet another member of the VFD and begin a frantic hunt for the elusive sugar bowl. However, their investigations turn up something far more terrifying. In the depths of the Gorgonian Grotto, a deadly fungus grows. The Medusoid Mycelium is able to kill a person within an hour and Olaf will stop at nothing to get it.

Finally, the Baudelaires find themselves at the Hotel Denouement – last safe-house of the VFD. Disguised as concierges, they spy on the guests in the hope of finding out the identity of the mysterious “JS”. It’s not long before the orphans begin to recognise many faces from their previous adventures and realise that the VFD has been following them for a long time. Unfortunately, this means that they have to come to terms with how badly adults have failed them in the past. With no one left to turn to, the Baudelaires are forced to make allies in unexpected places, and start a few fires of their own…

As we reach the final stretch of this series, the story enters a bit of an odd plot cul-de-sac. Following the gamechanger that was The Vile Village, I can’t argue anymore that this series is repetitive. The novels have now almost shed their episodic structure and instead feel a lot more like a continuous story. While many previous instalments were self-contained, the stories now have light cliff-hanger endings. While these endings generally involve the orphans moving on to a mysterious new location, be it by Olaf’s boat or Kit Snicket’s taxi, the lingering plot threads continue. And these grow all the more plentiful by the novel.

It’s starting to become clear that A Series of Unfortunate Events is not going to be generous with its answers. At this late stage, it’s still not clear what the sugar bowl contains or why it is of such importance. We don’t know what caused the schism in the VFD. We still don’t even know if it was even Olaf who started the fire that killed the Baudelaire’s parents in the first place. If you’re the kind of reader who likes for things to be neatly tied up, this probably is not the series for you.

However, that is not to say that these three books do nothing to advance the story. While The Slippery Slope can be slow in places (especially when it comes to the translation of Verbal Fridge Dialogue), it contains the biggest revelation of the series to date. After nine instalments, this is the point where we find out what the VFD actually is.

Unfortunately, this explanation does still leave a lot in the air. We learn that they are secret organisation that once existed to put out fires (physically and figuratively) and value the importance of reading over anything else. We also learn of the schism – an event that split the organisation in two – though we don’t truly know what started this. While this explanation is still bare-bones, it does at least give an idea of how all adults (possibly including your own parents) are connected and why some behave more benevolently towards the Baudelaires than others.

The Slippery Slope also sets the trajectory for this arc of the series. Its surprisingly optimistic ending sends the Baudelaires on a mission to reach the Hotel Denouement before Olaf. It’s not simply enough for them to just clear their names any more. They now have a mission to save the unaware members of the VFD – people who were once allies of their parents – from their murderous enemies.

However, The Grim Grotto can’t keep up this momentum. I must admit, at this late stage of the series, I was expecting more. The novel really did feel like a filler story – a way to fill the time before the Baudelaires arrived at the Hotel. While it did introduce the new threat of the Medusoid Mycelium, it was quite slow burning and it took a long time before Olaf and his henchpeople arrived to ruin the day.

However, The Grim Grotto did do a good job of further blurring the lines between good and evil, which has been a reoccurring theme in recent instalments. As we learn that the deadly fungus was created by a member of the “good” side of the schism, it suddenly becomes quite clear that both sides have done questionable things. The second half of the novel also provides some decent tension, as Violet and Klaus rush to save Sunny when she is poisoned, which does at least make for an exciting finale.

The Penultimate Peril nicely carries on these themes, proving to be an incredibly strong entry in the series as it starts to gradually wind things up. While still very open-ended, the novel does continue exploring the balance of good and evil by dangling a couple of interesting carrots in front of the readers. The book provides the first interesting hints as to why Olaf hates the orphans so much, and this is far bleaker than you might imagine. It also provides a possible first (and only) meeting between the orphans and Lemony Snicket himself, which was something that I did not expect to see.

Yet the most interesting thing about this novel is the fact that it forces the Baudelaires to internalise what they have learned about the VFD and come to a judgement about whether they have acted like “good” volunteers, or if such a thing even exists at all. The Baudelaires have been repeatedly been let down by adults, even when those adults are supposedly acting with their best interests at heart. They’ve also done a number of things that Olaf would approve of, including starting fires, stealing and (indirectly) causing a death. Although the second half of the novel takes the form of the Baudelaires’ trial, ultimately they are the ones who come to a verdict and it might not be quite what you were expecting.

While the books are still written in Snicket’s distinctive, Gothic style, there is a lot more focus on characterisation in these three books due to the way that they are written. Although the development of Violet and Klaus is a bit disappointing, as both gain abrupt romances that come entirely out of left field, these novels really do give Sunny chance to shine. In The Slippery Slope, she even gets her own solo mission as she spies on Olaf and learns that she has a passion for cooking. This development continues over the next few books, as she learns to speak in short sentences and ultimately is the one who identifies a cure for the Medusoid Mycelium.

Beyond Sunny, the most interesting development goes to the villains. The Grim Grotto unexpectedly reveals some backstory for the Hook-Handed Man, while the The Penultimate Peril begins to imply that there may be some strong motivation behind Olaf’s evil. I also rather liked the revelation that Olaf struggles to spell simple worlds, as it made me curious about where a dyslexic person would fall within an organisation that considers people who don’t read to be bad.

Anyhow, I’m starting to ramble so I guess I’ll wrap this up. While A Series of Unfortunate Events is still enjoyable, it does not seem to be tying up its loose ends as well as I would like. With only one more instalment to go, I am concerned that this series won’t resolve half of the mysteries that it has raised. However, I am certainly looking forward to finding out how everything concludes for the Baudelaire siblings in The End.

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

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

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

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: A Series of Unfortunate Events – Supplementary Material | Arkham Reviews
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  3. Trackback: The Sobeks 2018 – Part 3 | Arkham Reviews

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