Illustrator: Diana Sudyka
Series: The Mysterious Benedict Society #3
Also in this series: The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey
Published by Little, Brown and Company on October 5th 2010
Genres: Middle Grade, Mystery
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Join the Mysterious Benedict Society as Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance embark on a daring new adventure that threatens to force them apart from their families, friends, and even each other. When an unexplained blackout engulfs Stonetown, the foursome must unravel clues relating to a nefarious new plot, while their search for answers brings them closer to danger than ever before.
Filled with page-turning action and mind-bending brain teasers, this wildly inventive journey is sure to delight.
Note: In the last review, I expressed a wish to buy a spyglass so I could be just like Kate, and…I did! It’s awesome. I’m prepared for any spontaneous adventure now, haha.
Man oh man, I LOVE these books! I really can’t express how great these are. The whole series is amazing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- these middle grade adventures are so great because they are so much more than that. It’s not even just how amazingly clever the plot is and how loveable the characters are. It’s the subtle things. It’s the dialogue and subtle exchanges and the relationships. In the previous two reviews in the series, I talked a little about plot and a lot about characters, and in this one I will probably talk more about characters, but also the little things that tie this story together and make it about so much more than an adventure.
In this last book, there is a lot more internal struggle for each of them. Reynie in particular deals with leadership and how he feels like he always has to save everyone, even if Kate figured that out before he did. Kate also became immensely more important in this book, because of her physical abilities, mostly, especially her speed. But her speed- haste, really- was also a problem at times. So her greatest strength was also her weakness and that meant she had to rely on the others just as much as herself to make the right decision. Constance also became more important- her growth was considerably less in this book than the last, but her abilities increased extensively. She became capable of…insane things, but not without great cost. However, she was able to use them when they mattered. But it is interesting to note that the first time she did something extraordinary- in the way of her telepathy- she changed Sticky’s mind about something to her own advantage, and their reactions were surprising. Sticky was outraged- he is hardly ever so- and everyone else was horrified. Even Constance was apologetic when she recovered from the mental strain- and she hadn’t even done it on purpose. But their reaction was much more serious- I hesitate to say mature- than expected for children. Their experiences gave them a graver view of the world and, recognizing the power that Constance had, they had to make sure she would never use it for something like that. So obviously they take moral repercussions very seriously.
Sticky himself changes a lot, but I believe it’s mostly due to imaginary peer pressure. He represses his urge to polish his glasses all the time, and even resorts to wearing contacts in the end. He still is afraid a lot of the time- he and Reynie are the most fearful in the group- but he has moments of strength and brilliance. In fact, even his abilities grow in this book, and some things he even knew without me being able to figure out how he could possibly know them.
Reynie as well becomes faster at figuring things out, and as Constance can read both him and Mr. Benedict, it kind of brings them all closer together. You’d think that the sort of private communication Constance can perceive would make things more confusing and leave people out, but there is always explanation and elaboration. And in fact, sometimes Constance’s ability to read Reynie helped Reynie realize that he had made a discovery. And Reynie made a lot of discoveries in this book.
Also, I feel it is important noting that in this book, I really truly began to understand Mr. Benedict’s feelings about S.Q. In fact, S.Q.’s whole story becomes apparent in this book as well as Constance’s (hers proving that she was far more brilliant than anyone could possibly have expected at her age). But S.Q.’s story is still a sad one, even if not quite as sad. In the last book, Mr. Benedict had felt truly awful when it became necessary to trick S.Q. so they could make their mistake, when S.Q. had been nothing but kind to them while still following Mr. Curtain’s orders. S.Q.’s faith was unshakeable, even if he did truly know in his heart what was right. And that’s one of the saddest things. Even in the end when he was forced (morally) to agree with the children and would not lay a hand on them for Mr. Curtain, he still proved that he would follow Mr. Curtain to the ends of the earth. Even after realizing what he was doing to him. Such misplaced loyalty, but I feel like it had some subtle effect on Mr. Curtain, so that in the end he was a little changed. S.Q. gave him the loyalty and attention he wouldn’t have expected of his Ten Men, even though they were far more skilled. In that way, S.Q. could offer something they could not, and it came as a surprise to Mr. Curtain, and it ended up being for the better. But it was impossible not to feel for S.Q., who in the end chose his own lot.
In this book, the children were tested as there was a battle between working together at all times and letting the children most skilled at a particular job go it alone for the good of the others. Even from the very beginning, it was always a test. And sometimes they chose one, and sometimes the other, but it rarely worked out that the second choice was best. They did learn, the hard way, that sticking together would benefit them more in the end, although it was hard at time given their varied skill sets. But that also was precisely the reason they ought to stick together, and why they were a team, a Society.
I like how in this series, we can never forget that they are children. They are never portrayed as unstoppable, unflappable and truly formidable. They still have considerable weaknesses. They show fear at all the right times even while their minds are going. And family is incredibly important to them. They are never relied upon as heroes. Mr. Benedict is always concerned about their safety and no one ever puts them in direct danger (except in the first book). Even at this point, after they have proven themselves time and time again, it is all a rescue mission. They just so happen to do a lot more than sit and wait to be rescued. But just in that particular way, it makes it all the more realistic. These are just children with amazing abilities, just children. Children who go on adventures, but who view the world as and hold the values of children. And that distinction is important to the feel of the story.
Of course I must mention how fantastic the ending was. Still quite unexpected at a few points, and one thing I would have liked to see for myself rather than be told about it later, but altogether a very happy ending, mostly. As Sticky did say, quite bittersweet, because while it was a new beginning for them (a time of peace) it was also an ending for that very reason. Now there is no more need for the Mysterious Benedict Society, and testing their abilities will never be for so grave or important a cause. But at least they have each other, and an irreplaceable friendship.
This was a fantastic ending to a beautiful series, so much more than it appears at first. The plot is clever, sure, but it’s the characters and the subtler things and themes that really stand out and make this worth reading at any age. It just feels like such a rich story, rich in ideas. Would I read more by this author? You bet! Would I recommend this to others? Certainly!