Apr 3, 2012

[Books] The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events Book 1)

I had long wanted to read these books given the interesting artwork of the covers and how much I enjoyed the 2004 movie adaptation based on the series despite the involvement of Jim Carrey. And given my particular tastes in movies and my abhorrence of over-the-top acting, that says a lot.

But my book priorities never helped me to get around to purchasing the actual books in order to prioritize other titles over the years. And since the physical copies are typically sold in these quaint but a tad expensive hardbound editions, I waited for a cheaper option. Just recently I considered finally getting the box set at Fully Booked, but was surprised to determine that the finding all 13 books individually would turn out cheaper than getting the box set, which does not offer anything extra to push the buyer along. And frankly that's just silly.

So I eventually ended up sourcing the ebook versions of the series and am now finally making time to read them. My only lament by going this route is that my copies of the book didn't come with scans of the illustrations, something that I feel takes away from the book someone. Perhaps in time I'll get around to buying the physical books just for that purpose, depending on how the whole story of the series flows.

The Bad Beginning is the first book in the 13-title series of young adult novels in the A Series of Unfortunate Events line of books. The books are told by a narrator / author known as Lemony Snicket, which is the pen name for Daniel Handler.

The book introduces us to the Baudelaire children - Violet the eldest who has a knack for inventing things, Klaus the middle child who has a passion for reading and Sunny the infant whose main joy in life (thus far) is to bite things. One day while at the Briny Beach, they are fetched by Mr. Poe, their parents' banker, who brings the sad news that their parents and all their possessions have been caught in a massive fire at their home. There were not survivors and nothing could be salvaged. Thus the Baudelaire children become the Baudelaire orphans.

Count Olaf, his theater troupe, and the Baudel...
Count Olaf, his theater troupe, and the Baudelaire orphans, as illustrated by Brett Helquist (left to right): the white-faced women, the one who looks like neither a man nor a woman, the bald man with the long nose, the hook-handed man, Klaus Baudelaire, Count Olaf, Sunny Baudelaire, and Violet Baudelaire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
They are put into the trust of one Count Olaf, who is somehow their relative. But Count Olaf is a vile man who spends his days and nights with he fellow actors in some strange theater troupe while constantly ordering the orphans around like servants. His only goal in accepting the children, after all, is to figure out a way to get his hands on the sizeable fortune being held in trust until Violet was of age.

The book goes on to follow the exploits of these young orphans as they try to find ways to thwart Count Olaf's plan while remaining safe. And Count Olaf and his crew are not the types of adults who'd balk at harming young children in exchange for the sizable amount of money they could all potentially get their hands on should Count Olaf succeed in his plans.

The book has a nice cadence to it, for seeming lack of a better work. It just flows nicely from page to page given the adopted tone the author used for our brave narrator is certainly an appealing one. Everyone in the story seems to have a habit for presenting the definitions of what could be uncommon words for younger children while providing definitions that avoid the dictionary-style approach. Instead they often use terms that directly relate to the story and the plight of the Baudelaire orphans. Plus the narrator often addresses the reader directly, thus cementing the impression that you're just sitting across from Mr. Snicket as he relays his story over tea or something.

The children are certainly memorable if only for their unique talents. And these so-called talents are quite the mixed bag - skills that are potentially useful but not necessarily in just any situation. But the way the three siblings end up working together and alternately utilizing their respective skills and talents that gave the production at lot of hope. But then there are times the need to stress their respective skills does get a tad boring, but then best to leave it to the kids to judge that bit.

Count Olaf does make for quite the complex villain. At first he'd be all silly and slapstick given how Jim Carrey portrayed the character. But instead I get someone who isn't just evil for trying to steal the orphans' inheritance, but he's the type of guy who schemes and plans and waits in the dark. He'll hit children and threaten babies and all that sort of nasty stuff. He's not a one-dimensional villain but a rather complex one who will certainly help carry the series along.

The Bad Beginning does a great job of laying out what this whole franchise is going to be about and just how bad things may get in the future. And with the likes fo Count Olaf around, it is indeed hard to imagine a positive result for the children. Thus the book rates a respectable 3.5 caricature theater troupe members out of a possible 5.

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