Once again Snicket keeps the same basic formula, but changes it just enough to keep it interesting. I have to respect him for this. Too often in children's literature, the storyline is repeated again and again and when a change does occur, it often lacks originality. Snicket does a great job breathing new life into a series that could grow old very fast. I am excited to see, now that he's tapped most of the new-guardian/Count-Olaf-in-disguise angles, how he might shake it up, or take the story in a completely different direction. Snicket's good at this, and I expect that despite the length of the series, he has no trouble finding fresh, new perspectives.
The Miserable Mill shook the pattern established in the previous books a little, but it wasn't vastly different. The change was enough to keep me going, but to make it through a fifth book, Snicket will have to make some bolder moves (I trust he will). This fourth book in the series is lightly humorous, but not as funny as books 2 and 3, in my opinion. The story lacks the drive of books 1 and 3. None of the extra characters in The Miserable Mill were as developed as they had been in any of the previous books and this was disappointing: Phil had definite potential, and Charles and Sir were little more than cardboard people used to further the plot. Despite the negatives, The Miserable Mill was a more rounded book than books 1 and 2; therefore, I'd say The Miserable Mill is the second best in the series so far, but barely.
A Series of Unfortunate Events:
The Bad Beginning – 3.1
The Reptile Room – 3.2
The Wide Window – 3.6
The Miserable Mill - 3.3