I am such a big fan of prequels. There are few things sweeter than being woken out of the post-series-finishing blues by the announcement of another installment somehow (no matter how distantly) related to your favorite characters. I really wish JK Rowling would get with the program already.
You may have noticed (but probably not, because I doubt that anyone is follows my blog posts that closely) that I haven’t yet posted about books 1, 2, or 3 of the series. Why the total disregard for chronological order? You may be wondering to yourself. Well, besides the fact that I am filled with whimsy, I also hold the belief that no matter the publishing order, books are best kept in the chronological order of their own fictional world. Take the Chronicles of Narnia for instance. Besides the fact that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is by far my least favorite of the books, it just makes more sense that you read The Magician’s Nephew first so you can understand the Professor and the wardrobe more fully.
Anyway, I don’t really need a reason. Stop arguing with me already.
We meet Nicholas Benedict on the train ride to his new orphanage (aren’t train rides the very best book openers? I wish I traveled by trains more). His former caretaker is handing him over to Mr. Collum and Rothschild’s End, the foreboding manner house that is home to 50 orphans, and a few eccentric caregivers.
Nicholas is more than a bit precocious for his age. He’s pretty much Albert Einstein’s smarter younger brother. Unfortunately, to balance out the smarts, he has to deal with rather inconvenient bouts of narcolepsy and horrible terrifying nightmares and hallucinations.
Nicholas, despite his naturally (or really, unnaturally) cheerful nature, gets off to the wrong start at the orphanage. Mr. Collum, having being apprised of Nicholas’ intellect by his former keepers, is skeptical that children have an intellect at all, and annoyed by Nicholas’ habit of dropping off to sleep mid-sentence. The orphanage bullies, The Spiders, have a vendetta against Nicholas’ from the very beginning, after he tricks them into not beating him up. And the other children are all warned off from interacting from Nicholas by penalty of The Spiders’ retribution.
And I’m sure it doesn’t help much that Nicholas has to sleep in a room on an empty floor by himself, the window bricked in and the door locked from the outside, so that the other children are not disturbed by his screams.
Cheerful isn’t it?
With his quick thinking and some candle wax, Nicholas is able to make a copy of his room key, and scrape away the mortar from his bricked in window, so that he isn’t a prisoner at night, and can wander at his will. This comes in handy when he discovers that Mr. Collum has a secret; he is searching for the infamous lost Rothschild treasure, following clues in Mr. Rothschild’s diary. After getting a peek at the diary during his midnight forays, Nicholas has it memorized, and enlists the help of his new friend John to solve the mystery before the headmaster.
Nicholas finds an observatory on the property, and with it comes the discovery of Violet, a farmer’s daughter that lives nearby. Her help is enlisted as well in the treasure hunting.
Nicholas feels the pressure to solve the clues as Mr. Collum seems to be hot on his trail, but after a disappointing discovery at the town’s public library, Nicholas returns to find that John has been adopted, and not only that, but The Spiders have destroyed the farewell letter he left for him, and Mr. Collum arranged the adoption around Nicholas’ absence.
Truly bereft with the loss of his only friend, Nicholas actually loses his cool; having a mini-breakdown in front of the entire orphanage. This spurs him to run away, hopping a train out of town. His hobo adventure however, helps him solve the mystery, and learn to face his fears (of course he returns and all sorts of interesting things happen at the end, but I refuse to ruin that bit for you).
Now I am truly sad that the Benedict Society world is closed forever. Maybe there will be a pre-prequel? I feel a need to know more about Nicholas’ mysterious Dutch narcoleptic scientist parents.