I am super excited to review this book series. It is one of my favorite book series ever and I know I will enjoy reading and reviewing them. These books have more going on than meets the eye at first read and it encourages you to reread them again to catch all the little references and foreshadowing that is going on. Anything that seems unimportant is probably important, including the pictures located at the end of the novels, the dedication page, the Ex Libris on the very first page, the letter to the editor, and even the number of chapters (there are 13 chapters in every book).
These reviews will be a bit more spoilery than normal, so if you’ve never read the books before, take care. The reviews will also contain three new sections: Dedication (Snicket’s dedication in each book, all of which are to a mysterious “Beatrice” and get more and more humorous with each one), People/Places/Things to Keep in Mind (this especially will be slightly spoilery in regards to the series as a whole; it’s a list of people/places/things to keep in the back of your mind that will have big or small significance on the story in later parts. It’s a very involved plot and this is not merely an aid for you, but also my own way to help myself remember everything that’s foreshadowed or part of spoiler. I will only be listing the things that first appear in that specific book; I will not repeat items. I will also not explain the items on the list or to what book they are significant; as I said, it is merely a guide and a reminder), and Last Picture (the last picture in each novel has a hint/foreshadowing of the next book).
Also, I will be reviewing all 13 books in the series, of course, as well as two additions: The Unauthorized Autobiography and The Beatrice Letters.
The Bad Beginning is the first book in A Series of Unfortunate Events. It is written by Lemony Snicket. It was published in 1999 by HarperCollins. The author’s site can be found here and a fansite can be found here.
Genre: Children’s, Mystery
I’m sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very first page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune.
In this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast.
It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.
With all due respect,
The children looked from the well-scrubbed house of Justice Strauss to the dilapidated one next door. The bricks were stained with soot and grime. There were only two small windows, which were closed with the shades drawn even though it was a nice day. Rising above the windows was a tall and dirty tower that titled slightly to the left. The front door needed to be repainted, and carved in the middle of it was an image of an eye. The entire building sagged to the side, like a crooked tooth.
“Oh!” said Sunny, and everyone knew what she meant. She meant, “What a terrible place! I don’t want to live there at all!”
“Hello hello hello,” Count Olaf said in a wheezy whisper. He was very tall and very thin, dressed in a gray suit that had many dark stains on it. His face was unshaven, and rather than two eyebrows, like most human beings have, he had just one long one. His eyes were very, very shiny, which made him look both hungry and angry…
He leaned forward to shut the door, and the Baudelaire orphans were too overcome with despair to get a last glimpse of Mr. Poe. They now wished they could all stay at the Poe household, even though it smelled. Rather than looking at the door, then, the orphans looked down, and saw that although Count Olaf was wearing shoes, he wasn’t wearing any socks. They could see, in the space of pale skin between his tattered trouser cuff and his black shoe, that Cunt Olaf had an image of an eye tattooed on his ankle, matching the eye on his front door. They wondered how many other eyes were in Count Olaf’s house, and whether, for the rest of their lives, they would always feel as though Count Olaf were watching them even when he wasn’t nearby.”
~Snicket 22, 24-25
“To Beatrice—darling, dearest, dead.”
Recommended Age Range: 10+
What I Liked:
And so it begins! Man, I love this series so much. First of all, Snicket (in actuality Daniel Handler, but let’s go with Snicket for the fun of it) has hilarious writing. He has a habit of starting each chapter with some random thought or anecdote and completely tying it in with the Baudelaires’ situation. He also defines words that are used in either the narration or the dialogue of the characters, and, while these definitions are pretty straightforward in this book, in later books Snicket defines them a bit more unconventionally (and hilariously) and yet still defines the word. Hence why this book can be considered educational, because it teaches vocabulary (and grammar! But that’s two books away…).
Violet! Klaus! Sunny! Inventions! Reading! Biting! Opportunities to utilize all three of their gifts to foil Count Olaf or to not foil him! Which, by the way, is another thing I like: the orphans do not succeed at everything they do. They fail, which is perfectly normal and realistic. Granted, they will do something later that will eventually work, but not after they’ve had some sort of loss. And even their gains have loss in them—after all, this is called The Series of Unfortunate Events. And unfortunate they certainly are.
This book is definitely a first book in a series. It introduces the main villain, the main characters, (one of) the ineffective side character(s), and the main plot of the series (or is it?)—stop Count Olaf from getting the Baudelaire fortune! By way of references to future events, it doesn’t have as much as the other books (or perhaps I didn’t notice as much), but I’m still surprised and pleased to see the foreshadowing that Snicket put into this book. It shows great thought and knowledge of an overview of the entire series.
Also, the Ex Libris always has a picture of the Baudelaires on the top with whatever outfit/disguise/garb/appearance they don for that book, as well as a picture of Count Olaf on the bottom, with his outfit/disguise/garb/appearance.
What I Didn’t Like:
Mr. Poe is an extremely ineffective adult. So is Justice Strauss. So are most of the rest of the adults in the entire series. Here’s the general rule-of-thumb for adults in this series: they’re either villains, ineffective, or spineless/weak/afraid. It actually gets a little annoying after a while. I think the only adult character who is not a villain who actually does something is…well. I’ll save that for when we actually meet the character, because I might change my mind.
People/Places/Things to Keep in Mind (this section will contain spoilers):
-Count Olaf and his associates, obviously
-The Baudelaires and their talents, obviously
-Mr. Poe, his coughing, and his ineffectiveness, again obviously
-Justice Strauss (and her initials, JS)
-The Baudelaire mansion
-Beatrice (from the dedication)
-anagrams (more specifically, names. Al Funcoot, who wrote The Marvelous Marriage, is an anagram for Count Olaf)
A snake is curled around a lamppost, hinting at the next book, The Reptile Room.
The Bad Beginning is a great beginning to The Series of Unfortunate Events. It has charm, wit, and a great deal of misfortune that promises for an unfortunate, but amusing, book series. It is a wonderfully done set-up to the series as a whole and I am quite looking forward to reviewing the rest.
Coming Up Next: The Reptile Room