When I was little, my mother bought all 13 books in this series because it was the first series we found to have a character named ‘Violet,’ my sister’s somewhat unusual name. This was what began my love for this series, and I have endlessly consumed the books, movies, and TV shows based on it ever since. From Klaus’ distaste of bread pudding to Violet tying her hair up when inventing, and from Sunny transforming from an infant who loved to bite into a brilliant chef to Lemony Snicket’s endless wit, I love everything about this series. That being said, I love some of the books more than others. Here is my ranked list of every book in the series.
13. The Vile Village—This book just didn’t do it for me. It was lacking the humor and the storyline, and characters were just not as engaging as the other books on this list. In each of these books, ridiculous and comically unfair things happen; here, it felt like just unfair things happened. It is somewhat of an outlier in the series, both in terms of plot and tone, which is why it ended up near the bottom of the list. Also, the book seems to taunt the audience by naming the town “VFD,” but it isn’t the real VFD we don’t even learn anything about VFD!
12. The Miserable Mill—As much as I enjoyed Count Olaf dressing up as Dr. Georgina Orwell, this book just was not as interesting as some of the others. I found the tone depressing, but not in Lemony Snicket’s classic, darkly humorous way. In general, this book felt like filler and it didn’t have much of a real and lasting impact on the broader plot of the novels. Overall, it was not my favorite and was pretty hard to get through without feeling sad.
11. The Slippery Slope—What this book is missing is the dynamic between the Baudelaires and their guardians. Though naturally they need to be on their own at some point, as well as the plot needing some diversification, this book lacked many of the elements that make A Series of Unfortunate Events books so wonderful. I also felt like this book dragged on a bit too long, and with the exception of meeting Quigley, it was not as integral to the plot of the series.
10. The Carnivorous Carnival—This book definitely isn’t bad, but it just isn’t my favorite. I really liked the “freaks” who were really just relatively normal human beings, and I love the sheer absurdity of feeding the Baudelaires to the hungry lions. However, despite these humorous moments, it was simply not as engaging as some of the others, and I did not leave this book desperate to read the next one like I did with the books further up on this list.
9. The End—Though this book is rather sad and I wish things could be different, the ending of the series is fitting. I found it bittersweet to learn the answers to some of the secrets that had plagued the Baudelaires since the beginning of the series. Part of the fun of the books was the thrill of the secrets and reading until late hours in the night hoping to find answers. Secrets were a driving part of the plot, and, while my curiosity was satiated, I was slightly saddened to learn the answers because it meant that the series was over. That being said, it is a good and interesting conclusion to this 13 book series.
8. The Hostile Hospital—We are now getting into the section of this list where I thoroughly enjoyed all of the books listed here. Cutting off Violet’s head is a stroke of genius and Lemony Snicket’s writing perfectly blends humor and horror. The library is also one of the best parts of this book because it makes the mystery of VFD even more intense.
7. The Penultimate Peril—The morality of this book is a lot more gray than some of the earlier ones, with some characters not exclusively good or evil. Though I like this development a lot, it does not lend itself to as much wittiness as the stricter binaries that the earlier books do. My favorite part of this novel is how close we get to unraveling the secrets without actually revealing them. This makes it very intense and engaging. It’s also a stroke of sheer inspiration to organize a hotel based on the Dewey Decimal System!
6. The Bad Beginning—The first book in this series is a classic for a reason. Meeting iconic characters like the Baudelaire orphans, Count Olaf, and Mr. Poe is the reason why this book is number six on the list. It establishes the amazing dichotomy between children and adults, good and evil, and smart and stupid. I really adore how the children need to convince an incompetent adult that Count Olaf is evil. This is not present in some of the later books and it is detrimental to them. Though the plot is not as complex and interesting as some of the later books, it is still amazing, absolutely hilarious, and sets the tone that we all know and love for the rest of the series.
5. The Grim Grotto—This book sets up the ending for the next two books and introduces the newest danger: the Medusoid Mycelium. I also love the mystery of the Question Mark, which only shows up on the radar as a “?.” I’m still angry at the TV series for telling us what the question mark was, because the ominousness of not knowing was why it was so terrifying. Overall, this was an excellent addition to the series and I love the shenanigans—albeit rather frightening ones—that accompany the Baudelaires and Count Olaf on a submarine.
4. The Reptile Room—Who can forget the whole page of “ever?” The Reptile Room is full of wonderfully executed twists and turns, and I adore that it almost reads like a classic mystery novel. Uncle Monty is also one of my favorite adults in the whole series, and his charm is one of the reasons why I love this book as much as I do. This is also the first novel where we get one of Count Olaf’s disguises. The disguises are a hilarious constant throughout the series. When I was reading the series the first time, finding out his latest disguise was always one of my favorite parts to each novel so needless to say, the very first disguise he donned was particularly exciting.
3. The Wide Window—There is something deliciously hilarious about Count Olaf dressing up as a sailor named Captain Sham and having none of the adults notice his disguise. This book really sets the precedent that the adults either can’t or won’t help the Baudelaires, something that remains constant throughout the series. Thus, in this book, we find the orphans coming into their own.
2. The Austere Academy—This was our first introduction to the Quagmires! I absolutely love the Quagmires, and their introduction leads to even more knowledge of VFD and the secret lives of the Baudelaires’ parents. It is also where we first meet Carmelita Spats, who is undoubtedly one of the most hilariously entitled characters that I’ve ever read. The ideas of an “Orphan Shack” and a Vice Principal named Nero who plays the violin are similarly brilliant. Overall, this book is amazing and one of my favorites!
1. The Ersatz Elevator—This book is my all time favorite! I love the constant fluctuation between what is “in” and “out.” It also exemplifies the narrator’s dark humor and both clever and hilarious writing style.The Ersatz Elevator is also perfectly paced and highly suspenseful and it was honestly difficult to find anything wrong with it. I also love how it introduced us to Esmé Squalor, a recurring character. She adds a lot to Count Olaf’s pretensions of grandeur and their relationship creates two compelling villains for the remainder of the series. This book represents everything that is great about the series!
I hope you enjoyed my ranking of these childhood classics! Feel free to comment your list or to disagree with me in the comments! If you want to purchase any of these books, go here!