Although they've escaped the burning Hotel Denoument, the Baudelaire children are now at sea, with little idea where to go and their old enemy, Count Olaf, on board. They wash up on a desert island under the mild but steely control of the indolent Ishmail. Everyone eats, drinks, and dresses the same, and innovation and curiosity are stifled. Although they are finally safe from Count Olaf--this island is the first place they've ever found where no one is fooled by his disguises and lies--the Baudelaires chafe under Ishmail's control.
Compare to the last few books, there is relatively little action in this one (although certainly some very dangerous and tense situations). The real action is going on inside the Baudelaires, who must decide once and for all what they value most. They must choose between safety, knowledge, or helping others, knowing that they can never have all three.
The style of these books is so unique and compelling, the main characters so likeable, and the plots so mysterious, that I have found many hours of joy between the pages of this series. That said, don't read these thinking that all will be revealed in time: if Snicket answers one question, he excites three more in the mind of the reader. I can't tell if I'm impressed or aggravated!