A Series of Unfortunate Events 13

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 | 10-12 | Extras

A Series of Unfortunate Events was a series of novels written by Lemony Snicket and published between 1999 and 2006. The main series consisted 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). The series also has a couple of supplementary novels that further flesh out the world and has been adapted into both a film and Netflix series. For the purpose of this review, I will be looking at the final instalment only.

Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire managed to escape the burning of the Hotel Denoument but had to do some pretty villainous things in order to do so. Now, they have found themselves stranded at sea aboard the Carmelita. To make matters worse, they are also sharing the boat with their hated enemy, Count Olaf. Although he seems less threatening without his henchpeople, he still has the diving helmet full of the medusoid mycelium at his disposal and so can easily kill everyone aboard the ship.

Following a huge storm, the Baudelaires and Olaf find themselves marooned on a coast shelf, regarded to be the place where everything washes up eventually. They soon meet the nearby islanders and discover that they also once underwent a schism. A large number left the island but those that remain now live under the rule of Ishmael – a man who seems to have the power to control their actions and beliefs through not-so-subtle suggestion.

When a familiar face also washes up on the island, the Baudelaires slowly start to learn that chance has brought them to a place that has connections to their past. Although they thought they had left the VFD far behind them, their parents had once visited the island and may have been instrumental in the schism. However, the Baudelaires do not have long to explore this connection. Olaf is determined to seize control away from Ishmael and would not be averse to using the medusoid mycelium to do it… 

This final instalment of A Series of Unfortunate Events is certainly one that has the power to divide readers. While this is the part of my review where I usually tell you that you need to read the books in sequence to fully appreciate them, but I’m not sure this really helps at all. Although I have had my suspicions for a while, I can now confirm that The End does not answer the biggest questions that you might have had while reading the series. If you want to know the significance of the sugar bowl, why people believe that Lemony Snicket is dead or who murdered the Baudelaire parents, too bad. The answers are not found within these pages.

Instead, The End takes the time to make clear that A Series of Unfortunate Events is not an entire story in its own right. It is merely a sequence of connected (and largely depressing) ordeals that take place within a much bigger picture. There are characters that deeply influence these stories, such as the Duchess of Winnipeg, who the Baudelaires have never met. There are also characters who are only introduced in this novel who will have a further role to play long after the Baudelaires’s story ends. While this will feel very weak to some fans of the series, it does at least serve to explain why things do not wrap up neatly and why not all secrets are revealed.

For the Baudelaire orphans’ last adventure, the plot of this book is a bit lacklustre. It didn’t really feel like much of a climax to the series. Olaf isn’t really even the major antagonist of the volume as, stripped of his henchpeople and disguises, his role is somewhat neutered. In fact, the novel still carries the same episodic feel of the previous instalments as the end of the fourteenth chapter leaves the ultimate fate of many characters up in the air.

While the story did lack finality, I did actually think that this was the best way that it could have ended. The novels have always styled themselves around being excessively bleak and depressing so, on this basis, there was no way that the Baudelaire siblings could have a happy ending. Yet the final chapter is, at least, hopeful. While the story is still furnished with Snicket’s over-the-top explanations and black humour, it allows the reader the opportunity to imagine their own ending for the Baudelaires. As The Beatrice Letters gave little idea of what became of the orphans after they leave the island, their fates are ultimately left to the reader to decide.

In terms of characterisation, The End was also rather varied. Violet, Klaus and Sunny were still strong and likeable protagonists. While I did not think they had really developed beyond the way they were portrayed in The Penultimate Peril, I did find their ending interesting. While they are offered the opportunity for a quiet and safe life, their ultimate decision to return to a world of treachery and despair is certainly interesting. I also very much enjoyed Olaf’s development in this story. Away from his henchpeople, he suddenly seems a lot less threatening. The hints at his former relationship with Kit Snicket are also curious. I would love to know what happened there.

Yet I was very disappointed that so many characters were lost to the Great Unknown. Literally. The Great Unknown is some kind of mysterious sea creature and it devoured a good chunk of the principle cast. For me, this felt incredibly weak. Although the novel postulates that they could have survived, I really wanted more closure than this. The Quagmires and the crew of the Queequeg were really major characters and deserved a better send off than they got. The same could also be said about everyone who was at the Hotel Denouement as we never do find out who survived the climax of the previous book.

Anyhow, I think that about sums it all up. While A Series of Unfortunate Events did have some weak instalments, it was a unique and memorable series that takes young readers very seriously. It presented some really colourful characters and introduced a great villain in the shape of Count Olaf. It also subtly emphasised the importance of literature, as well as encouraging its readers to take interest and observe the world around them.

While it may not be the best written series that I have reviewed on this blog, I have thoroughly enjoyed it and would certainly recommend it to any young teens who enjoy a bit of dark humour. I will certainly be reviewing more of Snicket’s work in the future.

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

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