May 29, 2012

[Books] The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events Book 4)

I've been treating the books of A Series of Unfortunate Events as a quick way to get through the week when my heavier, more complex books bog me down. Plus when I'm nowhere near finishing one of those books in time for the weekly review, it seems the best course of action to get through one of these titles since I finish them fairly quickly.

The first three books have been entertaining, but rather light fare even when compared to other young adult novels that I've read. And I admit that may be due to the fact that those books were all part of the movie adaptation released in 2004.

But this fourth title is already outside of that comfort zone of familiar titles and it completely new territory. And I have to admit the prospects of this had me both somewhat excited and yet a tad nervous, too. It could go either way, after all, and this may determine whether or not it was worth the effort of getting copies of all the books for my Kindle. Ah well.

But thankfully the book turned out to be a heck of a lot more disturbing than the others - and I mean this in a good way. On to the review!

Synopsis: The Miserable Mill is the fourth book in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events book series. Lemony Snicket is actually the alias of writer Daniel Hander.

In this book, our intrepid young Baudelaire orphans now venture to Paltryville, home to the Lucky Smells Lumbermill. Here they are entrusted to "Sir" - which is all that they can call him given no one seems to know how to pronounce his last name. To their surprise, they are made to work at the lumber mill under rather horrible working conditions - and this is not just because they're only children.

Image of a stylized eye
Image of a stylized eye (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The mill is filled with its own set of interesting characters. One is Foreman Flacutono, who calls the attention of the employees by banging two pots together. There's Charles, who is technically Sir's partner and yet acts more like his assistant. There's the eternally optimistic worker Phil. And beyond the people, there's a mysterious building in the small town that appears to be decorated with a single large eye. And that naturally has the orphans on edge.

What makes this book most distinct is the fact that this is probably the first time that their guardian isn't particular kind or accommodating - not counting Count Olaf of course. In the two prior books the orphans had the good fortune of having caring although quirky habits. In this case we don't even see their new guardian given all the cigar smoke around his face and he makes no effort of caring for the orphans or seeing to their well-being. He can only offer a vague promise of security from the likes of Count Olaf.

And that's another interesting part of this story - how long we all end up waiting for Count Olaf's inevitable appearance. With Sir surrounded my smoke and the Foreman wearing a surgical mask, a lot of the characters in this book seem to go out their way to cover their faces and thus make identifying them harder than usual. And both the orphans and us as readers are constantly on edge in terms of trying to find Count Olaf before he can execute his latest scheme.

I don't think we've seen the orphans this depressed and destitute since the first book when they were put in the "care" of Count Olaf. And at times it seems even worse since Count Olaf had a weird sense of order to things where they were treated as servants. Here they seemed to be practically slaves along with the rest of the employees at the mill. And given the main twist in the story after Klaus breaks his glasses, well, it's a small miracle that the orphans get out of things alive.

And here I really need to give credit to Lemony Snicket. The books aren't just following some set formula like an episode of Scooby-Doo or something. Instead we're treated to rather different stories and varied methods that Count Olaf employs to try and get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune. And that ability to change things up and yet still keep it somehow plausible for three children to escape such a dastardly and vile man as Count Olaf.

The Miserable Mill feels like an escalation in the tension of the overall series and present a truly dark and dreary road ahead for the Baudelair orphans. One can't expect things to get better any time soon and the dark tone of this series caries a maturity beyond the typical young adult book. Thus it gets 4 sticks of chewing gum rations for lunch out of a possible 5.

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