Friday, January 26, 2018

Book Review: The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events #5)

Release Date: August 31, 2000
Author: Lemony Snicket
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Length: 221 pages
Source: Purchased Book

Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are at first optimistic--attending school is a welcome change for the book-loving trio, and the academy is allegedly safe from the dreaded Count Olaf, who is after their fortune.

Dear Reader,

If you are looking for a story about cheerful youngsters spending a jolly time at boarding school, look elsewhere. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are intelligent and resourceful children, and you might expect that they would do very well at school. Don't. For the Baudelaires, school turns out to be another miserable episode in their unlucky lives.

Truth be told, within the chapters that make up this dreadful story, the children will face snapping crabs, strict punishments, dripping fungus, comprehensive exams, violin recitals, S.O.R.E., and the metric system.

It is my solemn duty to stay up all night researching and writing the history of these three hapless youngsters, but you may be more comfortable getting a good night's sleep. In that case, you should probably choose some other book.

With all due respect,
Lemony Snicket



Protagonists: After their escapades at the Luck Smells Lumber Mill, the Baudelaires are sent to a very austere boarding school. This is the first time that they haven't had a guardian, good or otherwise, and their Vice Principal is an egotistical jerk, their teachers are rather boring, and there's a little girl who won't stop calling them cake sniffers. Once again times are trying for the children, and that doesn't even include when Count Olaf manages to find them yet again. Things are a bit different this time. While the children do still rely on their individual talents to get them through yet another series of unfortunate events, they aren't completely alone this time. This time the Baudelaires meet some friends who can empathize with their misfortune and have special interests of their own. It was great seeing Violet, Klaus, and Sunny interact with kids their own age and have the chance to show the kids in a less repetitive light. Look, these kids still haven't developed much since the beginning of the series, I mean, yeah bad things have happened to them, but they always find their way out, Count Olaf always finds them again, and repeat. Because the characters are so simply written there isn't any time for depth or actual development in their characters. As someone who's read this series before, I know that certain characters do get developed, but it takes a long time.

World Building: I love boarding school set books, I don't know why I just do. This is by far my favorite book in the series in terms of the world because so much, though honestly after rereading it, not as much as I thought, happens in this book. This is the first book where the formula gets shaken up. The children don't have a legal guardian in this book, they handle finding Count Olaf differently, and there's actual world development in this story as well. I won't say too much in case you haven't read the book before, but the question of who Count Olaf is, in relation to the children, their parents, and on a personal level is brought up in this story, and where there's smoke there's fire. This story isn't as long as I remember and because of the length, even though the classic formula gets shaken up quite a bit and we finally have even a modicum of story progress, we don't get that much to set it apart from the other rather formulaic books in the series.

Foreshadowing: Because I've read this book before I was never really all that surprised by where the story went, but I was able to sort of sit back and bask in the foreshadowing, or well I would have if there had been more foreshadowing. As I read the story I could only really see where things were going because either I'd already read the book, or it was so completely obvious. Even the big twists of this book didn't really seem to have foreshadowing attached to them. They just sort of happened on a dime without a lot of preamble.

Ending: For the first time in a while I can talk about the ending of one of these books. Though again, this story is so short that even though things happen at the end, things that shake up the formula, there isn't really a final climax, unless you feel that attempting to unmask Count Olaf is a final climax. There is more of a cliffhanger to this story and with it a shift in this series storytelling. This story doesn't simply end with the Baudelaires needing a new guardian and Count Olaf getting away, this time things become much more unfortunate.


I'm still giving these books lower ratings than I thought because as a child I never realized just how repetitive, even with a book as game-changing as this one, this series is and I never noticed how flat these characters are. I care for the Baudelaires sure, but honestly, I just wish they were fleshed out a bit more and felt like more three- dimensional characters.


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