the baudelaires were forced to stow away in the trunk of count olaf's car at the end of the last book, & they wind up at a carnival set up in the badlands, in the shadow of some very imposing & mysterious mountains. they steal supplies from olaf's disguise kit to costume themselves as circus freaks--violet & klaus become conjoined twins & sunny becomes chabo the wolf baby. with no other options, they use their disguises to apply for work at the carnival, where they are forced to perform humiliating tasks for the amusement of slack-jaws & nitwits & listen to the incessant whining of a circus freak whose only freakishness is that he is ambidexterous. all the other freaks seem to hate themselves. but staying at the carnival enables to the baudelaires to learn of the mysterious relationship between count olaf & the proprietor of the carnival, who claims to be able to pinpoint the baudelaires' locations with the aid of her magic ball. she helps olaf because she has a crush on her, & he showers her in affection, much to the displeasure of jealous esme. the orphans unearth the clairvoyant's secret, which is that she's not clairvoyant & actually keeps a secret library underneath her table which provides her all the information she needs to deduce the baudelaires' whereabouts as they are moved to different caretakers. they begin to be-friend her, but before they get too far, olaf buys some lions to liven up the carnival, & decides that a different freak will be fed to them everyday. how can the orphans escape the carnival without first being fed to lions, especially when their objective is to cross the badlands & ascend into the mortmain mountains where they hope to discover the location of the VFD headquarters?