Review Blog

Jan 06 2009

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

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Chicken House, 2008.
Ages: 9+ Recommended. Fans of Lemony Snicket are bound to enjoy this light hearted, rip roaring adventure based on the dastardly Mr Curtain's wicked plan to brain wash the entire population and take over the world.  The story starts with an advert placed in the newspaper requesting gifted children with special talents to perform a series of tests. Reynie Muldoon, resident of Stonewall Orphanage is encouraged by his beloved mentor to take part. Along the way he meets three other children, also parentless. All four pass a series of bizarre exams and are chosen by the mysterious Mr Benedict to infiltrate the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened (LIVE) to defeat the evil Mr Curtain.

This is a cinematic story, reminiscent of Roald Dahl, with plenty of breathtaking action and larger than life characters. Neatly placed in all the action are some thought provoking messages such as: 'the only way to get rid of fears is to confront them', and 'to be a leader means being lonely and having enemies who despise you'!

One of the reasons this story works so well is that our heroes and heroines are flawed and human. Although highly intelligent Sticky Worthington has more neuroses than a medical text book, Kate is brave, indomitable - and knows it. Reynie lacks self belief and worries endlessly, and Constance Contraire lives up to her name by being awkward and irritable. The children bicker and fall out, but ultimately they use their individual strengths (very appropriate in our climate of multiple intelligences) to defeat the wicked Mr Curtain.

Just how Kate stumbles on her father, how Reynie finds the happiness of a family of his own and how we discover Constance Contraire's perfect excuse for being so lazy and irritable are pulled together in a superb and satisfying ending that ties up all the knots.

At nearly five hundred pages this is a novel for able readers, ready for a challenge. They will be richly rewarded with an action packed story which neatly balances slap stick humour with moments of high octane excitement. There are heroes they can relate to and a villainous megalomaniac who deserves every boo and hiss yelled at him!
Claire Larson

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