October 13, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

The End

Current Status
In Season
We gave it a B+

Is it too early to teach the kids about Shakespeare? In this 13th and final iteration of the adventures of the Baudelaire siblings, Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) evokes nothing less than The Tempest to end his saga of woe, of friends lost and found (mostly lost), and parents never to be seen again.

The End begins with the Baudelaires stuck in the same boat as evil Count Olaf. After landing on a coastal shelf, they encounter cultish, white-robed islanders with names plucked from the Western canon of seafarers and castaways (Kurtz, Caliban, Bligh), led by a charismatic man called Ishmael. There, the siblings learn a host of after-school-special lessons on peer pressure, fear, and seeing the world through the same shades-of-gray-colored glasses that adults wear.

It might be an amusing escape if Snicket weren’t so persistently present. After 13 books, we’ve had quite enough of his too-clever rhetorical devices, a phrase which here means ”run-on sentences, self-conscious narration, and vocabulary definitions that are imprecise but make a snarky point.” And what happens in the end? Do we ever learn what VFD stands for? Find the siblings’ missing friends? Take down Olaf? We only get a few answers. But when the solution is revealed to the series’ central mystery — who is (are?) Beatrice? — the journey feels satisfying.

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