In a city called Stonetown, near a port called Stonetown Harbor, a boy named Reynie Muldoon was preparing to take an important test.
When I told the boy which book I was reading next, I had to really persuade him that my choice to read this middle-grade spy mystery had nothing to do with my love for a certain Cumberbatch. So anyone thinking this book will get you into some kind of BC fan club prepare to be disappointed! What this book does offer is an epic journey where a group of exceptionally talented children are the only ones who can save the minds of mankind – not a bad trade-off methinks!
With elements of A Series of Unfortunate Events and Enid Blyton at her best, TLS’s tale of Reynie, Sticky, Kate and Constance is a very classic-style children’s adventure where the child protagonists are isolated and working on their own merits to defeat the evil adult figure of Mr Curtain on Nomansan Island. Championing the powers of intellect and teamwork Mr Benedict’s small band of individual orphans come together to form a rather unique team with a very special set of skills!
Full of codes to crack and riddles to solve, the audience can participate and become an integral part of the Mysterious Benedict Society alongside the core four. In an adventure story, pitching brains over brawn may have been a risky move but TLS demonstrates that intellect can be just as useful and exciting in the field of battle as well as being exceptionally diverse. The surprisingly small Constance is petulant yet fiercely loyal, Sticky (real name George) is brilliant with a photographic mind but painfully reticent, Reynie is the middle ground as the level-headed and socially aware ‘leader’ of the group and characterful Kate is as strong and courageous as she is clever.
There’s no two ways about it at 485 pages The Mysterious Benedict Society is a bit of a tome but the pacing is well thought through and the story never feels like it’s dragging. TLS gives a brilliantly accessible yet detailed view of the children’s circumstances, whilst retaining the mystery, and develops his characters at a steady pace. That being said, I feel a more careful edit to reduce the number of pages could have built up the feeling of suspense and pressure on the protagonists a little more – the last 80 pages were much more adventurously manic and I wish that that style would have kicked in a bit sooner!
For a modern children’s book there is something wonderfully nostalgic in the narrative tone of The Mysterious Benedict Society and it carries the feeling of a comforting classic throughout. However, even for a children’s book, the end few pages are little too saccharine for me – for in this tale of spying and plotting the final realisations are a little too simple and the escapes are just that little bit too clean. A big reveal about one of the core four had me nearly up in arms it was that ridiculous but, deep breathe and that aside, what TLS has created in The Mysterious Benedict Society is a strong band of characterful protagonists whose escapades capture the attention of the audience. And that is a wonderful point on which to build a series – just ask Enid Blyton!