"This book is the last in A Series of Unfortunate Events
, and even if you braved the previous twelve volumes, you probably can't stand such unpleasantries as a fearsome storm
, a suspicious beverage
, a herd of wild sheep
, an enormous bird cage
, and a truly haunting secret
about the Baudelaire parents."
A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS number thirteen is the last in this series, as would be imagined by the title. In this one, the Baudelaire orphans pick up where they left off in The Penultimate Peril: In the same boat as their enemy Count Olaf in more ways than one. Basic outline of the book and plot spoilers ahead.
The book begins with the Baudelaires and Count Olaf in a boat together. Olaf orders the Baudelaires around and clutches a harpoon gun and a helmet full of poisonous fungus. The Baudelaires wonder whether to push Olaf overboard as he leans over the side of the boat to pull off the "Carmelita" label to reveal a "Count Olaf" label. A storm hits.
The boat washes up on a coastal shelf. Everyone has survived, and Olaf continues to order the orphans around as they walk around the shelf. A young girl named Friday greets them, and since the Baudelaires are polite, they are invited to the island which is her home, but since Olaf keeps claiming to be their king and threatens Friday with the harpoon gun, she tells him to go away.
The orphans get led to the island and are offered coconut cordial, which tastes strange and sweet. They meet Ishmael, the island's facilitator, and then they are told to put on white robes like everyone else and give away all their possessions. Klaus is allowed to keep his glasses, but otherwise they have to hide what they're each keeping: Violet hides her ribbon, Klaus hides his commonplace book, and Sunny hides her egg whisk.
The islanders go through the usual custom of sorting through anything that had washed up on the beach during the storm. Ishmael rejects just about everything except nets and blankets, and has some sheep drag the items away. During this, many islanders are named, and they all have one thing in common: Their names have been used in some story or myth about the sea or islands. After that, the orphans are given food they don't like and their own seashell canteens full of coconut cordial, and the islanders drink a toast to the children. But Ishmael refers to them as orphans even though they haven't told him their story . . . which makes them very suspicious about how much this man knows.
The Baudelaires find their places on the island: Violet helps with the laundry, Klaus helps pile clay on Ishmael's ailing feet and refills his cordial canteen, and Sunny helps with the cooking. They discuss their past and what they miss, and decide they both like and dislike living on the island. Their peace comes to an end when a weird craft made out of strapped-together books arrives, carrying Kit Snicket . . . and Count Olaf, who is disguised as usual.
Olaf, in a seaweed wig pretending to be the pregnant Kit Snicket, tries to fool the islanders, but unlike every other time in the books, every single person sees through his disguise. They decide to put him in a cage that washed up in the last storm, and they abandon him with the books he rode in on and Kit Snicket. But because Olaf announced that Sunny was hiding a whisk in her robe, Ishmael found out what each of them hid, and decided to abandon THEM as well.
Abandoned, the kids sit with only a snake (the Incredibly Deadly Viper from book 2), an unconscious friend, and Count Olaf to keep them company. They discover that Ishmael had been eating apples (as evidenced by an apple core that fell out of his robe), and thus realize he's being selfish and untruthful about his feet being hurt. Olaf offers to share a plan and information if they will let him out of the cage, but they go out of his sight and think about their choices.
Olaf falls asleep and the Baudelaires keep thinking. Soon enough, Kit Snicket wakes up and is happy to see them (and their snake), but is disappointed to hear that Dewey is not with them. (The Baudelaires decide not to tell her that he was harpooned in the last book.) Two islanders--Finn and Erewhon--approach the orphans and bring them all onion soup, and they reveal that they are tired of Ishmael and are planning a mutiny--a schism. The Baudelaires are talked into helping invent and build weapons for this mutiny in return for promised help for the injured, pregnant, and distraught Kit.
The Baudelaires arrive at the arboretum where all the rejected items end up, and they quickly fall in love with the place. Their snake shows them a secret passageway under the roots of a tree, and there they discover an odd room. The siblings reclaim their lost items and discover new ones, and discuss using peer pressure instead of weapons to get rid of Ishmael. Then they discover a diary-like history of the island, and just as they realize it mentions Kit Snicket and contains some of their mother's handwriting, Ishmael arrives.
Ishmael claims he knew the Baudelaires would come to this place because it was "in their blood" to do so--he knew their parents, and revealed that they had lived on the island once too. But they had been forced to leave, and Ishmael claims that the children were never told the sad history of their parents because the parents didn't want them to know; they'd wanted them to be shielded from the unfortunate events of the world instead of adding their own chapter to the book. Ishmael wants them to abandon their lives and live simply according to the island's rules, because it's what their parents would have wanted.
The island sheep drag Ishmael and the Baudelaires back to the island, where a mutiny is already in progress. Ishmael supporters are fighting with people who want to overthrow him. Everyone starts voicing their suggestions, and then Count Olaf--still wearing a dress with a false pregnancy--wanders in and challenges Ishmael, at which point it is revealed that Ishmael was part of V.F.D. as well and has a secret history with Olaf. In order to end things once and for all, Ishmael fires the harpoon gun at Olaf's belly . . . where he is hiding a helmet full of poisonous fungus. Everyone, including Olaf, is exposed to the poison.
Ishmael expects everyone to sip coconut cordial and think about their situation, but the Baudelaires know from experience that the fungus will kill them within an hour, so they race off to the arboretum to find a solution. There is no horseradish or wasabi in the kitchen, so they try reading their parents' record, which clues them in that the apple tree above them is a hybrid tree that produces bitter apples. They cure themselves by eating one of the apples.
The Baudelaires rush to try to save everyone with more apples, but the colonists are already leaving on a boat as the coastal shelf floods. Ishmael has convinced them that the coconut cordial will save them (though drinking it has just made them stupid), and they refuse to take any more help from the Baudelaires because they perceive that they are the cause of this mess. Their snake goes after the boat with an apple, so there is a possibility that they might have survived, but that is left open. In the meantime, the orphans must help Kit Snicket give birth. She has also been poisoned by the fungus, but won't take an apple because it will harm her baby. Count Olaf appears, also poisoned, and the Baudelaires convince him to do one good thing in his life and carry the pregnant woman to a safe place so she can give birth. He actually does so--and kisses Kit in the process!--but even though he eats an apple and cures his fungus infection too, there is a wound in his chest from the harpoon, and he dies. So does Kit. And the Baudelaires name her daughter after their mother, and raise her on the island, with all the devices and information in the arboretum to help them.
An unprecedented chapter fourteen epilogue shows the Baudelaires a year later, having raised the baby girl and perused the island's history (also called "A Series of Unfortunate Events"). They add verses to the book themselves and explore the collection of wonderful devices, books, and kitchen implements, but then decide to depart when the coastal shelf floods again. Off they go with plenty of food and entertainment, in the vessel they came in. They pull off the nameplate that read "Count Olaf" and see that the boat was originally named Beatrice . . . which is also their mother's name and the new baby's name. That answers a lot of questions, but we still don't know what was in the sugar bowl, who lived and who died in various disasters (including the older Baudelaires' love interests and some former guardians), and what happened to them after they rejoined the world.
It probably would have been a let-down if the book had answered all the questions, so this is mostly satisfactory . . . though one does wonder what was supposed to be in that sugar bowl. . . . Hmm. . . .