The Mysterious Benedict Society
Trenton Lee Stewart
Frome, Chicken House, 2007, 473p
This is an brilliantly clever adventure story. In the style of Lemony Snicket, the Mysterious Benedict Society is about four intelligent children who are called upon for a strange and dangerous mission.
The Society consists of Reynie, Sticky, Kate and Constance, each with skills and abilities across a broad range of areas. Reynie is great at solving puzzles; Sticky's brain is full of facts, as he can remember anything; Kate carries around a bucket full of gadgets, always equipped to solve any problem; and although Constance's skills are initially unclear, she is very small.
An advertisement in a newspaper brings these four children together - it is looking for gifted children who want to experience 'special opportunities'. The children undergo a series of peculiar tests, from the seemingly impossible multiple choice quiz, to the equally challenging task of navigating a maze of identical rooms. The author keeps the reader on their toes as much as the characters.
I would not say this is an easy read, but it is clever and well-paced. It is rather long, so lagged a little in the middle, but it held my interest with its complex plot and witty tone. All through it, I felt the need to be on high alert - everything seemed like a trick or a hint at something else. But I loved the level of intelligence needed to read and enjoy this book. It is as if Trenton Lee Stewart respects and understands young people, and is completely unwilling to patronise them.