Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant, filled with odd waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like. – The Slippery Slope
The 13-book series “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is conversely the most fun I’ve had reading in ages, written by Lemony Snicket (the pseudonym for author Daniel Handler) (by pseudonym I mean a different name and persona) (that aside is inspired by one of the recurring conventions in the series) (all will be revealed soon).
The series follows the travails of the three Baudelaire siblings—Violet, Klaus, and Sunny—who were orphaned after they lost their parents and home in a terrible fire. They move from guardian to guardian and place to place throughout the series, followed by the dastardly Count Olaf, who is after the Baudelaire fortune. Each book recounts the Baudelaire’s attempts to escape Count Olaf, who is a master of ridiculous disguises, each more absurd than the next. The Baudelaires always identify him right away, but the clueless adults in their lives are always fooled. Count Olaf has a theater troupe of various villains and henchmen who help him with his evil schemes.
Handler’s Snicket always warns readers at the beginning of each book that the forthcoming tale will fill them with a despair from which there is no reprieve. As he writes in The Slippery Slope, the 10th book in the series, “I can no more suggest the reading of this woeful book than I can recommend wandering around the woods by yourself, because like the road less traveled, this book is likely to make you feel lonely, miserable, and in need of help.” The books are hysterical, but he’s not wrong. There are murders and people being eaten by lions and impossible situations from which the Baudelaires usually escape by the skin of their teeth. Violet, 14 years old, is a talented inventor. Her 13-year-old brother Klaus is a voracious reader. And the baby Sunny has four sharp teeth that she uses to do things such as open cans and scale up formidable walls.
I’ve read the first nine books in the series before CBR 13 started and they are some of the greatest young adult books I have ever read. They are very clever and never talk down, even though Snicket—their biographer with a mysterious past—constantly defines words for his readers (e.g., “Some people called this man wicked. Some called him facinorous, which is a fancy work for ‘wicked’.”) In every book the Baudelaires must manage to escape from Count Olaf and his evil compatriots. In The Slippery Slope, the orphans are traveling with Olaf through a dangerous series of mountains. Early on, Olaf keeps baby Sunny and attempts to kill Violet and Klaus. He is not successful and the brother and sister make their way up the mountain to rescue Sunny and follow a rumor that one of their parents survived the fire.
Like all the previous books, there is great mix of humor, adventure, and suspense. You truly don’t know how the Baudelaires will get out of their predicaments. Handler finds clever, if unlikely, solutions that involve each sibling using their particular talents to escape. The unlikely part is intentional, allowing Handler to use his formidable imagination to get the Baudelaires out of dilemma after dilemma.
Over the course of the series, many mysteries are described, which keeps you wanting to read book after book. How did the fire start that killed the Baudelaires’ parents? What does the tattooed eye on Olaf’s ankle mean, and why do they start seeing eyes everywhere? How does a mysterious organization called the V.F.D. fit into things? Delightfully, Snicket is a character in his own right, so he comes with his own set of mysteries: Who is he? How does his story connect to the Baudelaires? Who is his dead love, Beatrice, to whom he dedicates each book?
The Slippery Slope is another wonderful addition to the series. I don’t want to spoil things, since finding out how things unfold is half the fun, but there is always a tiny bit of light at the end of the tunnel, even if most of the book is full of ominous, dreadful circumstances. I’m looking forward to finishing books 11 to 13 to see where it all ends up. Because despite Snicket’s warning there are no happy endings here, I don’t totally believe him.