Upon first glance, The Mysterious Benedict Society looks like an ordinary mystery novel for children. But it’s not. The author, Trenton Lee Stewart, has been compared to Lemony Snicket, who penned all thirteen brilliant volumes of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Amazingly, The Mysterious Benedict Society seems to be modeled on certain content in A Series of Unfortunate Events because it is a novel for children about children, plus a cunning repertoire of ciphers, logic puzzles, and creative thinking. However, unlike the caustic satire and direct wordplay expressed in Snicket’s series, Stewart brings forth a different kind of story, one more directly involved with the children’s missions than meticulously unfolding their complicated pasts.
While there are secrets in The Mysterious Benedict Society, there is more outer deception in one particular place than any other, probably due to the fact that the plot is set in one specific area instead of having the characters do extensive traveling. Nevertheless, in this first volume in Stewart’s series, the reader is given full introductions to the main characters, their pasts, their uncommon intelligence, and their special talents. Like in A Series of Unfortunate Events, the story of The Mysterious Benedict Society centers on independent children who are brought together by singular circumstances and one very unusual newspaper ad.
The first major difference in the situation of Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance in comparison to the status quo of the Baudelaires’ lives is that Stewart’s children choose to enter into Mr. Benedict’s confidence and his mission, while the Baudelaires’ parents are killed by arson and reality pushes the three precocious children into dangerous circumstances. Secondly, there seems to be only one real villain in The Mysterious Benedict Society when his accomplices have all been brainwashed, while Snicket’s Count Olaf and his gang all are aware that they are committing crimes. This is only one example of how Stewart certainly does not follow Snicket’s debate about the duality of human nature.
Anyway, Stewart’s main characters appear to be parallel to Snicket’s, with a bit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes thrown into their personalities. First there’s Reynie, who is an eleven year-old genius with the logic skills of a detective and enough quick wit to save the day. Sticky, on the other hand, is exactly like Klaus Baudelaire, always reading and putting his remarkable photographic memory to use by rapidly absorbing all and any information. The next is Kate, whose Indiana Jones skills and courage are only matched by her inventive imagination and her bucket of tools. The youngest of this “secret agency,” Constance is very contrary and easily irritated, but her willpower and blunt honesty exceed that of anyone else and prove her to be a competent ally.
Mr. Benedict, a genius himself, is the mysterious leader who sets out to recruit a team to help him. With some help from Mr. Benedict’s own group of skilled adult individuals, the children must infiltrate the headquarters of a nefarious mastermind and uncover his evil plans—plans that include ruling the world by means of artificial telepathy. Boarding school, telepathic transmissions, and a dangerous machine called the Brain Whisperer—all these mysteries constitute great adventure in The Mysterious Benedict Society, which may be considerably long for one novel but whose enigmatic content is like an unavoidable magnet. It is highly enjoyable and intellectual, without any visible sarcasm or satire. With this book, the reader has the opportunity to actually learn something and challenge his/her analytical skills.
Every riddle that Stewart presents is not only very ingenious but also simple, brief and effective encouragement to try to indirectly help the protagonists during their espionage. Morse code and witty literal names (i.e. some titles form a phrase or phonetically stand for another word) are prominent as well, e.g. “Nomansan Island” or “Ledroptha Curtain.” The Mysterious Benedict Society also features sardonic humor, especially concerning the issues of education, world governments, and economic crises. Stewart shines his critical spotlight on society and its strange aversion to people with super-average intelligence. With all of its storyline’s scientific connections, logic, and humorous lines, The Mysterious Benedict Society is captivating and adventurous, a very extraordinary start to the author’s series about four very extraordinary heroes.
Original review: Part 1: Here is Sherlock Holmes and ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ combined!; Part 2: Here is Sherlock Holmes and ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ combined!; Part 3: Here is Sherlock Holmes and ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ combined!, Examiner.com