II just finished reading The Grim Grotto, the eleventh volume in Lemony Snicket's
Series of Unfortunate Events series. I remember being intrigued by these when they first appeared; the kids' book buyer at the bookstore I used to work at was all aglow over their dry wit and dark whimsy; even so, it was some years before I finally got round to reading hte first eight or nine books in the series, and I was quite excited when book ten came out last year, as I thought it would end things. It didn't -- the series has been drawn out through book 11 and book 12, and who knows how many more.
That was a bit of a disappointment. Somewhere around book seven, the series started to flag for me. The themes were a little tired, the character development had stalled, and the I just wanted the mystery to be resolved.
But with the Grim Grotto, the series revives admirably. The basic plot of the Unfortunate Events books is that the Baudelaire children (Sunny, a baby with a sharp tooth; Violet, a virtuoso inventor; and Klaus, a shrewd researcher) are orphaned when their house burns down. They are put into the custody of Count Olaf, a sinister villain who is plotting to steal their inheritance. After making their escape from Olaf, they endure a series of negligent and dangerous custodianships, chases, servitude and escapes, as they investigate the murder of their parents and the nature of the organization their parents belonged to, the V.F.D..
The books are full of adventure and intrigue that will doubtless engross little readers and with sophisticated humor and wordplay that will sail over their heads and into the astonished gobs of their grownups.
Grim Grotto features a really marvellous little morality play about villainy, in which one of the series's enigmatic villains is humanized, and in which moral ambiguity is put front-and-center; a real rarity in kids' lit.
These little, beautifully made hardcovers are only $10 or $11 each, and they can each be devoured in a couple hours flat. This is the kind of book I loved when I was, oh, 10-15; and it's the kind of book I love reading today, too.