Who Could That Be at this Hour?" I shall not summarize the plot (much), because to do so would keep anyone who hasn't read it yet from asking their own questions. I myself had many questions, mostly along the lines of "What the heck is happening?" (in a good, intrigued way, as opposed to an "I am confused and cross" way).
My first question (as a reader)--who is this almost 13 year old boy named Lemony Snicket, whom I have just met, and why is he exiting this distasteful cafe by way of the bathroom window? What secrets does he hide from me? Already I sense that he is an unreliable narrator. Why does he tease me so?
The boy and his new companion, a teacher and mentor of uncertain credentials, journey to Stain'd by the Sea. There they must solve the mystery of a stolen statue.
My second question (asked as a person planning to review the books)--are the many peculiarities of Stain'd by the Sea and its environs sufficiently peculiar to make this "fantasy"? Answer: yes, if one must label it something, and doesn't it stink to have fallen into a pigeon-holing mindset.
Not only is Stain'd by the Sea a geographical enigma, it holds dark secrets.....!
My third question: ?????? Which is to say, there are mysteries piled on mysteries, and the breadcrumbs marking the path through the woods have been eaten (as it were, or else I'm dense. Or both). It does not help to know who anybody is at any particular hour, because there are Secrets and Lies......
As I read, my mind kept conjuring Edward Gorey to illustrate the surreal scenes unfolding. The surreal landscape, the enigmatic characters, all playing their parts but communicating very little--coming and going on and off stage, and doing bizarre things--, the mystery of it all, and an sense that this was not the present (whether that's justified I'm not sure), made it fell very Gorey-esque to me. So strong were these images that it was something of a surprise to go back after reading it to see that it was actually illustrated, and very nicely too, by an artist named Seth.
In any event, my own mental images added considerably to my enjoyment. But added to that was a growing emotional investment in young Snicket--I knew nothing, yet still I cared.
Here's what the NY Times said, rather more articulately than me!
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher