The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart: Riddles and rhymes
First book in the Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy (not including prequel The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict and sequel The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of Ages)
NB: The “Characters,” “Difficulty,” ”Concerning Content,” and “Age Level” sections are nearly the same for all three books in this trilogy.
Overall rating: 8.5/10
Quality of writing: 8.5/10
Concerning content (language, violence, etc.): small
Age level: 10 and up
Protagonist Reynard “Reynie” Muldoon is sent to take a series of tests for “gifted children,” and as a result, finds himself as a member of a team of extraordinary children tasked with infiltrating the Institute, a compound that appears to be a school, but which is actually the headquarters of Ledroptha Curtain, an evil genius plotting t take over the world. Joining Reynie in this mission are Kate Wetherall, the human equivalent of a Swiss Army knife (who always carries around a bucket of assorted tools and is also known as :The Great Kate Weather Machine); Sticky Washington, a prodigy with a photographic memory and a mysterious backstory; and Constance Contraire, a sulky rhymester who expresses her frustration on amusing poetry. Incorporating mysteries, riddles, and memorable characters and reminiscent of authors such as Agatha Christie, The Mysterious Benedict Society is definitely worth a read and forms part of a larger series including the Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy, a prequel, and a sequel (see above).
The plot of this book can be divided into two main sections: the first centers around Reynie’s journey and tests before meeting the rest of the eponymous “society,” while the second deals with the Mysterious Benedict Society’s adventures on Nomansan Island as they seek to unravel the malevolent plans of Ledroptha Curtain. While the storyline occasionally swerves into side-episodes (mainly those dealing with Reynie’s academic life at the “Institute,” the supposed school operated by Mr. Curtain), it incorporates a number of pleasingly surprising plot twists, as well as intriguing riddles for the protagonists to solve.
Once the second section of the book gets underway, the plot is largely reminiscent of a mystery novel. Furthermore, it centers largely around the personal friendships and trust of the protagonists, and leads to a satisfying and sufficiently unexpected ending. Overall, the plot of The Mysterious Benedict Society is characterized by new discoveries and plot twists, while also not entirely (but mostly) cohesive over the course of the book. (8.5/10)
If I had to choose one element of this book as a favorite, it would be the characters: Stewart’s protagonists are endearingly quirky and relatable, while his antagonists provide a satisfying example of classic mustache-twirling villainry (see, for example, the evil genius Ledroptha Curtain, who plans to take over the world by using his malevolent machine known as the “Whisperer”). The four main characters are described above (see “Summary”), and range from serious (delving into deep topics such as trust and forgiveness) to humorous, making light-hearted banter that will engage most (if not all) readers almost immediately. Overall, the characters in The Mysterious Benedict Society are most notable for their quirkiness and humor (although they can certainly be serious as well). (10/10)
This book is quite an easy read, with a relatively simple style. Even the included poems and riddles (a feature which might prove difficult in other contexts) are readily understandable, even by younger readers. Furthermore, the plot is mostly straightforward, and the protagonists are particularly relatable for adventurous children. Overall, The Mysterious Benedict Society merits a 3/10 rating on difficulty.
Quality of writing
While Stewart’s writing is overall engaging and readable, its chiefest virtues are its amusing characters and its plot twists. Reynie, as protagonist, is understandable and sympathetic, funny at times, yet also serious, while the other characters are similarly interesting and humorous; the plot twists are frequent and largely unexpected (and often prompted by one or another of the riddles which Stewart often includes). On the downside, the plot might seem too simple for some older readers (i.e. high school age). However, my personal opinion is that Stewart’s books are quite enjoyable for all ages, and I myself still greatly enjoy his books as a high schooler. Overall, The Mysterious Benedict Society is funny and engaging in style, while possibly (although in my opinion not really) somewhat on the simple side plot-wise. (8.5/10)
This book contains little to no concerning content. (no sexual content or language). What “violence” it contains is largely of the slapstick variety (bad guys getting knocked out, etc.), and is not particularly concerning. Granted, some scenes might prove somewhat frightening for very young readers, such as the scene in which Ledroptha Curtain attempts to telepathically control the protagonists using his “Whisperer,” but overall, this book contains no real concerning content.
Based on this book’s low difficulty level, lack of major concerning content, and readable style, it is recommended for readers aged 10 and up.