Five prisoners of war escape from the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia in a hot-air balloon. During a hurricane. This is how the Mysterious Island begins. Some days later their balloon suffers a large tear and they begin to descend into the Pacific Ocean. Desperate to lighten their load, they finally land on an unknown island: stranded.
Cue the eye rolling. It sounds like just another Robinson Crusoe or Swiss Family Robinson. But this is Jules Verne we're talking about: he pulls the story off better than most could. Of course, there are some obvious annoyances: their island magically contains every survival material they need (Verne does, at least, partially explain this by making the island a mostly-submerged continent). And the good in the novel outweighs the bad, forgettable bits.
The mystery is the crown jewel of the story. On this island that no human has touchd, a strange handhelps the castaways on numerous, inexplicable occasions. This mystery is woven thoughout the book, helping to provide the page turning impetus better than the somewhat lame and recyclable castaways bit. It concludes in an interesting twist that ties in with one of Verne's better-known books.
Other Verne stories tie into the novel as well, including one which I'm in the process of reading now (The Children of Captain Grant) -- in a way, this novel weaves together several stories into a single conclusion.
Of course, the book comes fresh with Verne-esque science and explanations, which always prove to be entertaining. The settlers' creations on the island are well-described and explained, fueling the imagination of the little kid inside us all that would like to go be castaway on an island.
Overall, this is another excellent classic from Jules Verne that you should pick up if you get the chance. On the other hand, this is another classic from Jules Verne -- it's not for everybody. Still, this book is definitely four stars and if you love adventure at all, you should give it a read.