The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma (Book #3, Trenton Lee Stewart)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Though it’s not my favorite in the series, it’s a fitting, well-written ending for the main Benedict Society trilogy. We get to see nice resolutions to all of the individual mysteries/background stories that still had any dangling bits, and we get a resolution with our main villain (Mr. Curtain) who has been with us since the beginning. The things that you’ve been wondering about (like when are these kids, who are constantly outsmarting adults, going to perhaps outsmart themselves?) get addressed, and it’s a more quickly paced book than the others. Some of it feels a little too “pat” and I’m not a huge fan of the arc Constance in particular takes… but otherwise, it’s a worthy end to the series.

Greater Detail:

I’ts hard to talk about this book without the talking about the entire series, as this one, more than others, really doesn’t stand on its own. There are really five books in this set. There’s the core trilogy (The Mysterious Benedict Society, The MBS and the Perilous Journey, and this one) as well as two others that comprise the “set” (one that deals with Mr. Benedict when he was still a child, and another fairly interesting one that just is a set of riddles and brainteasers, some that were probably rough drafts that didn’t make it into the book, some that reference the main story in some ways).

In many ways, the first book (which I think had the most pacing issues just because it was the introductory one) was my favorite, as there was a freshness to our cast of heroes and the main villain. The second one is paced better, but I had issues with one particular plot twist, and this one felt both quicker, more polished, and also very much, like a proper ending.

Our Heroes: though they continue to suffer through some growing pains, Reynie blossoms more fully into his role as the “leader” of our pack, Sticky is far less annoyingly braggy/less confident, nothing particularly momentous happens to Kate, which is unfortunate, though she definitely gets a hero/action star moment, and Constance, well, Constance is one of the main focuses of this story.

(spoilers ahead)

In this novel… we see that Constance isn’t merely smart, but is also… partially… telepathic. Which is a little awkward. Though the other two books skirt around the ideas of memory control/wipes with a “machine” this is the first time we get into really telepathic/thought control. Though, once they commit to it, they really commit to it, it felt a little weird because we start off in a more realistic setting (other than the one “thought-control-machine” idea), so, to suddenly have a full-blown telepath, felt a little jarring.

The Villain: though he felt very… dangerous in the first one, his final take-down feels a little too easy (though he’s well-developed throughout most of the novel) . His main “plot” is well developed, and he builds nicely on his threats throughout most of the novel, but the final climactic scene didn’t feel completely satisfying…¬†(And, S.Q. who is the helper left with the hanging plot arc in the second novel, does find some mostly satisfying resolution.)

Still, I think the entire series is worth reading, and the riddle/brainteasers are fun. I personally didn’t feel as invested in Mr. Benedict’s origin story, but this was totally enjoyable.


Comparison to Other Books:

Probably the easiest comparison (starting age group is similar, four kids in the group instead of three) is Harry Potter, but that is a far more balanced series (though also more mature). This is more suitable for truly middle grade students (or even younger), people get stunned and tranquilized, not killed. Even out villains have layers and aren’t beyond hope. Our ¬†female and male heroes have balanced strengths and weaknesses, and it’s nice to see that even though our traditional male kid has been cast the the all-around “leader” we’ve got a secret-agent-in-training Kate who truly kicks butt (though undergoes relatively less emotional development throughout the series). I think it’s a strong series, and definitely one I would recommend to advanced elementary readers and/or 5th-grade-ish students.


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