Jun 26, 2018

[Books] The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events Book 12) Review

My journey through A Series of Unfortunate Events has certainly been a challenging one that had an interesting start, a slow middle but an ending arc that feels like it's accelerating exponentially with every passing books. And there are few books in the series that are less exciting than The Penultimate Peril.

Just when it feels like the Baudelaire children are finally in safe hands, it seems that the sense of safety was only meant to be a passing thing. After all, Count Olaf and those forces that work with him are still out there and can't be left alone. And given all that these children have been through, they're not exactly helpless in this greater struggle.

For many books I've been harping on knowing more about the mysterious VFD but slowly yet surely we've learned a little bit more about this organization and the schism that broke it apart across the various books. And now that the Baudelaires know a lot more about this great organization, it feels that they are now pretty much part of VFD already.

Synopsis: The Penultimate Peril is the 12th book in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events books. It's pretty lengthy at 353 pages but it will still not feel long enough.

After the events of The Grim Grotto, the Baudelaire children are traveling with Kit Snicket, member of VFD. They're headed to the Hotel Denouement known to both factions of the VFD schism as the last safe place for the volunteers to meet safely. But she won't be going with them and will only drop them off as she has other business to attend to. They'll be disguised as concierges of the hotel in order to allow them to move about freely.

Their mission is to locate and observe "J.S." and determine if this person is a volunteer or villain. This is complicated by the fact that the hotel is being managed by the identical siblings Frank the volunteer and Ernest the villain, but Kit has no information on how to tell who is who apart from trusting their instincts. And once there, the Baudelaire children encounter many familiar faces from past misadventures who are also at the Hotel Denouement - but the eternal question is which of them are volunteers and which of them are villains?

What I Liked: There's so much about this book that I love and it's pretty much a grand celebration of all that had come before. Beyond the return of different characters, there's also so many clever clues worked into this title as firmly defined by the challenge of figuring out who is Frank and who is Ernest based on brief encounters with one of them as they either provide instructions for the Baudelaire children or test them with questions of their own. There's more puzzling double identities in play here than in your average spy thriller.

Beyond that the book is also a culmination of the many struggles of the Baudelaire children and all the growing up they've had to do in order to survive everything thus far. In trying to learn more about VFD, they ended up sort of undergoing a very rushed training for VFD. By coming to understand the traits that define what makes a volunteer versus what makes a villain, they were all faced with the choice of who they want to be. And that's quite the amazing journey that was sort of present but was also quite subtle until it was called into action in this book.

What Could Have Been Better: This book can be quite confusing if you don't remember practically all the characters from the past books. A decent understanding of who each of them are will help you better understand who might be good and who might be bad, but that's not necessarily easy across 12 titles thus far.

Then after so many starts and stops about who VFD is, this book sort of blitzes through that together with the Grim Grotto and there's no more time and the Baudelaires must make some very hard choices. And it's not easy to deal with all that within a limited number of pages. For every time I complained about things feeling slow on the meta plot front, this book accelerates forward at a crazy rate as if there was no tomorrow. And for the most part, this may be be truth.

TL;DR: The Penultimate Peril may be among the best if not the best book in the entire series, which is funny to say about the second-to-the-last title. But there are just so many plates in the air with the Baudelaires struggling to keep up and determine who are volunteers and who are villains and the tension may just drive you a little mad. Thus the book gets a perfect 5 familiar faces back in circulation out of a possible 5.

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