A Series of Unfortunate Events is Lemony Snicket's chronicle of the terrible misadventures of the Baudelaire orphans, whose parents died in the mysterious fire that destroyed their home. Violet Baudelaire, the oldest, is an inventor, and she is frequently called upon to invent things to get them out of trouble, like MacGyver meets Tesla. Klaus Baudelaire, the middle child, is a reader with mad research skillz, able to find answers in books and recall things he read in books years ago. Sunny Baudelaire, the youngest, is a biter. Because she is a baby, no bigger than a salami, and she has four very sharp teeth. Her language skills are not as developed, however, so she must express her complex thoughts in baby talk that is translated by Snicket or her siblings. You guys, Sunny Baudelaire is amazing. She is the Greatest Baby Character in All of Literature, Possibly Fiction. The brilliance of Sunny Baudelaire is that somehow Snicket is able to have his baby and eat her too: she is able to do things no baby should be capable of doing, like cooking or stapling, but everyone can still pull out the "She's just a baby!" excuse, and it totally works.
The Baudelaire orphans are wonderful characters, instantly lovable, so of course we hate to see them terrorized by the greedy Count Olaf, who has his eyes on the Baudelaire fortune. He is their first guardian, and he schemes with his acting troupe to get a hold of all that money, but, thankfully, the children thwart him and are sent to live somewhere else...where Count Olaf shows up in disguise, once again trying to get their fortune. The early books are extremely formulaic, and some are even self-aware about the formula, and I didn't think I could take thirteen books of the same formula over and over. Luckily, I didn't have to! Because the book reveals a series arc, and suddenly there is much more to the story, and the Baudelaires have more to do than simply escape Count Olaf over and over. And then later on, there's a paradigm shift that shakes the formula up again, all as Snicket continues to build an intricate, absurd world populated with colorful, gimmicky characters.
The series is essentially a whole lot of gimmicks thrown together. Since I expected the fiendish cleverness and metatextual delight of Pseudonymous Bosch, I was initially a bit disappointed that the only tricks Snicket seemed to have up his sleeve were reminding us that things would be terrible and defining words for the reader. He does expand his repertoire with each book, though, although those two do remain trademarks of the series. What I love about the series is the way Snicket plays with language, picking apart common phrases and taking them literally. He also enjoys defining characters by one singular motivation taken to extremes, leading to much amusing repetition of phrases. As a result, character development is minimal, but when it does appear, it usually centers on one of the major themes of the series, in which Snicket again tries to have it both ways: he constantly stresses the dichotomy of good and evil but also acknowledges the messiness of moral ambiguity.
The biggest gimmick of them all, however, is Lemony Snicket himself, who, of course, is actually Daniel Handler. But Snicket frequently refers to his own backstory and a relationship with a woman named Beatrice, and I soon became just as interested in his story as I was in the Baudelaires', especially because they seemed to be connected in some way. And the Baudelaires' story became more and more interesting as the series went on and they uncovered more about—oh, but I have said too much already, as the series is full of wonderful surprises. It builds an intriguing mythology.
And then...well, the last book is not what I expected. Amusingly enough, it reminds me of the Lost finale, which I actually did like, but I suspect many people will find it similarly dissatisfying, although others will find it lovely and emotional. I only mention that as a caveat, however. Because despite my disappointment with the ending, I did not regret my time spent with the Baudelaires at all. They're such great kids! Snicket's writing is immensely entertaining, and Tim Curry's performances are rich and delightful, and I enjoyed the build-up to the end, at least. The whole series is a lot of fun, and I do recommend it.
And on the subject of fake authors, witness Mark Reads The Princess Bride, in which Mark reviews The Princess Bride as if it truly is William Goldman's abridgment of the S. Morgenstern original...and we keep the ruse going on in the comments. The other day, I started a flame war that eventually led to my claiming to be Count Rugen's heir. Then I claimed The Stranger was originally by Morgenstern too. And then someone invented a government conspiracy, so I became a Guilderian secret agent, my victim continuing the story the next day. At this point, we have a bona fide scholar of Florinese history. There are several of us getting into it, creating our own little Morgenstern/Goldman/Florin/Guilder mythology. I even did a Buffy crossover.
I haven't had this much fun on the Internet in a long time.