Fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society will be thrilled with this prequel that tells the tale of how benefactor Nicholas Benedict got his start in life. Young Nicholas has been an orphan his entire life and is simply hoping to find a place where he can make a friend and feel he belongs. When he enters Rothschild's End (his latest orphanage) he immediately encounters a trio of bullies who successfully manage the other orphans through hazing and continued intimidation. Readers will truly enjoy Nicholas' clever and imaginative methods for eventually outwitting these bullies who initially figure out that if they can't beat Nicholas up, they can get to him by isolating him socially, bringing him face to face with his worst fear: loneliness. The mystery of Rothschild Manor involves a treasure that Nicholas plans to find so that he can run away from orphanages forever and live a life of leisure. As he embarks on his hunt, he makes two very special friends along the way who help him realize that his true purpose in life is to give of himself and his mental gifts to make the lives of other children better. This story is long, but will be richly rewarding for smart readers who will be stimulated by Nicholas' genius and problem solving abilities. In this case, the protagonist wins out in seemingly inescapable situations simply by using his head again and again. The book is full of intelligent vocabulary, but it would also make a nice read aloud for younger readers who would enjoy the storyline, but may need a little help with explanations along the way.