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23rd November
2008
written by Steph
"The Mysterious Benedict Society" by Trenton Lee StewartI posted a while back that I had embarked on reading The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco… only, the thing is, I have failed miserably at reading it. I took it with me when I went out of town, figuring that all of the flights and traveling would provide me ample opportunity to read it. When Tony’s flight was delayed from Nashville to Baltimore, I polished off about 150 pages while waiting for him at the airport. This experience was quite painful and left me wanting to stab out my eyes, because for every enjoyable mystery bit that advanced the main plotline, there would be about 25 pages of turgid, dense philosophical or historical (sometimes both) musings that had the most soporific of effects on me. Needless to say, I began trawling the little Borders shop (surprisingly well-stocked for an airport bookstore) looking for new reading material. And that is where I stumbled upon The Mysterious Benedict Society. I was intrigued by the comparison to Harry Potter (then again, I’ve been burned by such allusions before – ahem, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. One day I’ll make it past the first 30 pages!), and the price of $7 wasn’t bad either. Pair this with a 30% off coupon we got at the in-store café later in the week, and I was sold. Or rather, the book was, but you see what I’m getting at here. The book revolves around the trials and tribulations of four orphans who, after completing a serious of challenging and unorthodox tests, are tasked with a highly dangerous mission, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. In order to prevail (supposing that they do indeed find themselves triumphant), they must face their greatest fears and learn to trust one another and come together as a team. Each child brings an important skill to the team (though the importance of some of these skills are not revealed until very late in the book), and it is only united that they can hope to be successful. There is plenty of action and adventure throughout the book, but for all the physical skirmishes, the book is also filled with puzzles, riddles, and mental strategizing. As such, I think it would appeal to a wide variety of children (because it is kid lit), but certainly adults as well. Strong core themes of friendship, family, bravery, truth, and intellectual freedom run throughout the novel, although the latter one might be a bit esoteric/advanced for most child readers; still, Stewart handles all of the issues in a fairly elegant way, and avoids being pedantic. Overall, I didn’t exactly feel as though this book held the same magic of the Harry Potter books (no pun intended!), but I did enjoy it, and read it quickly (despite its being about 450 pages). The characters were all sympathetic, but not necessarily as well-developed or sympathetic as those in the Potter novels (for instance, Mr. Benedict, is a far cry from Albus Dumbledore). It was a solid first novel (it appears there will be a series), but everything added up to a very good, but not necessarily great, book. Perhaps subsequent books will allow for more meaningful development for all four characters. I won’t be rushing out to read the next one (as I did with Chamber of Secrets, after finishing Philosopher’s Stone), but I certainly intend to eventually read the next book and the next adventure. One quote from the book that I really enjoyed and which reminded me very much of something one might find in an early Potter book:
It took only one of those seconds for Kate to think: It has to be all four of us, but Constance can’t handle them. You can handle them, though. It will be rough, but you can handle them. (Part of Kate believed this – a very important part, for Kate’s sense of invincibility was the main thing that had sustained her all of her young life alone. But another part did not believe this – and it, too, was an important part, for unless you know about this part it is impossible to understand how brave a thing Kate was about to do.)
Rating: 4 out of 5

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