Monday, June 18, 2012


THE EXTRAORDINARY OF NICHOLAS BENEDICT by Trenton Lee Stewart makes a compelling stand-alone novel, but for readers of THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY and its sequels, this prequel is a real treat. We meet Nicholas at the age of nine, when he is already an old pro at adjusting to life in a new orphanage, as his narcolepsy and night terrors tax an institution's patience. He joins 'Child's End, ruled by a pack of bullies called the Spiders, and makes a single friend, John. He is locked in his room at night, kept busy with chores, and can't spend all his time in the glorious library, but Nicholas, with his ingenuity and photographic memory, manages to circumvent the rules and avoid the Spiders' sworn punishment. Fortunately for Nicholas, the orphanage has a secret: the Rothschilds, who had lived in 'Child's End, left journals hinting at a hidden treasure and a missing inheritance. The orphanage's director is seeking the same things in order to save the orphanage, but without Nicholas's extraordinary talents.

Nicholas's ingenuity and the friendships he develops are a genuine pleasure to read about. His attempts to outwit both adults and children are not always successful, but when they are, they are great fun as they unfold. Nicholas balances daily life in an orphanage with the novel's big mystery, and developments and resolution of both are satisfying.

Nicholas is charming and his voice perfectly balanced between a child's worries and the thought processes of a genius. The politics at the orphanage are believable (for a time, his friend John, sick of being shunned, turns his back on Nicholas) and the bullies sufficiently threatening. Most importantly for a prequel, this book gives us the foundation for Nicholas's future character and exploits. An excellent standalone, but will be most loved by readers of the series. Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

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