by Lemony Snicket, 2001
Things are starting to heat up for the Baudelaires! We’re still using the same formula as ever: the siblings are placed in the care of some well-meaning but less than apt adult, Count Olaf shows up in a new disguise, and the orphans end up having to save themselves. In this case, however, an entire village fails the three, as the moniker “It takes a village to raise a child” is put to the test in their new home, the Village of Fowl Devotees. Or, if you will, VFD.
Snicket continues to string us along, as he doesn’t fully reveal here what VFD stands for. (Although, there is mention of someone working for a fire department, which stood out to me after having read the follow-up All the Wrong Questions series.) What he does do, however, is drop some more overt hints at the fact that he is perilously entwined with the Baudelaires’ story. (Spoiler alert!) In this volume the siblings work to free a man named Jacques, who shows up in the village sporting an eye tattoo on his ankle. Because the village believes this to be Olaf – who else could have such a tattoo? – he is sentenced to burn at the stake, only to be found murdered before the burning could take place. Who is this mysterious man? Why does he have an eye tattoo? How is he involved in this story? Snicket only gives us the answer to one: Jacques is his brother.
Snicket is back to his scathing critiques of society here, as the village is full of citizens who are strict adherents to rules. So fervently do they believe in rules that they can’t have any books in the town, because the content of some books break rules, and they can’t have any mechanical devices. This aversion toward knowledge and progress seems silly here, but let us not forgot how willingly people aim to censor information or decry technological advancements simply because they’re scary and new or fail to agree with previously held beliefs. I fear that it’s not long before we, too, find ourselves unable to access information and technology.
The story ends on a cliffhanger as usual, with the Baudelaires having rescued the Quagmire triplets, but the triplets having floated off on a self-sustaining hot air balloon contraption. We don’t know if we’ll see the Quagmires again (okay, we do, because how unsatisfying would it be if this is how their story ended?), we don’t know who else will show up with a tattooed ankle, but we do know that the Baudelaires are about to strike out on their own. We can only hope that they can take better care of themselves than every adult who has failed them thus far.