One of the cardinal rules of reviewing a book – or an album, or a film, or whatever – is that you’re supposed read it (or listen to it or watch it) for the first time with a completely open mind. You have to try to forget all your preconceived notions and read the book without any bias one way or the other.
This was my first experience with Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society series, but I can easily see why it is so popular. Well, I think it’s important for me to say, right off the bat, that I did not read The Prisoner’s Dilemma with an open mind. Why? Because of the title. Any book that references the actual Prisoner’s Dilemma – a classic thought problem from a very specialized branch of math called game theory – gets brownie points with me. (I literally judged this book by its cover, in other words.) The opening scene of the book has the four main characters (Sticky, a nervous genius with a photographic memory; Reynie, a boy given to brilliant flashes of insight but otherwise completely average; Kate, a freakishly fast and agile daredevil; and Constance, a telepathic four year-old who looks like a human fire hydrant) wrestling with that very same dilemma, and finding a new and slightly unorthodox solution that I won’t spoil for you.
In any case, I was inclined to like this book, and I’m happy to say that it lived up to my completely irrational and unrealistically high expectations. It’s filled with a large but manageable cast of quirky, lively characters; it’s written in a pleasingly erudite style, and is GREAT for vocabulary geeks like myself. Plus it’s got a really engaging plot that I was able to enjoy even though I haven’t read the first two books in the series. I won’t give too much away, but the members of the MBS are forced to use their unique talents to thwart a dastardly scheme. (If there’s one gripe I have with the MBS series as a whole, it’s that it seems pretty beholden to a classic kidlit trope: the gang of misifts, each with some special ability. The Maximum Ride series is the same way. Small gripe though.) It’s also a fairly long book, and will keep you occupied for a good week or so – always a plus, as far as I’m concerned.
I’m happy to report that I can heartily recommend The Prisoner’s Dilemma, especially if you like your writing a little more intellectual and your action a little more cerebral. Enjoy, Splotters!
— Jack, STACKS Writer