Fasten your seatbelt, folks, because the plot of War of the Worlds can be a little bumpy. Wells' narrator jumps from talking about the whole world, to talking about himself, to talking about what his brother's been up to. Don't say we didn't warn you.
The book starts with the narrator mentioning that the people of Earth never expected Martians to attack (understandable). Then Martian cylinders come crashing down into the English countryside. (Check out this map we made to see where the cylinders fall.) The cylinders open, revealing Martians that don't move so well – that is, until they build their tank-like tripods and go striding around the countryside on those, burning everything in sight with their Heat-Rays (patent pending).
The narrator runs and hides. He gets his wife away from the Martians… but then goes back towards the Martians. Why would he do that? Well, because a) he has to return the cart-and-horse he used to get out of town and b) he wants to see the British army crush the Martians. Also, possibly because c) he's not so smart.
At this point, the British army is fighting the Martians and losing badly: the British have managed to destroy one Martian tripod, while the Martians have been going to town on the British. When the narrator realizes how deadly the Martians are, he runs and hides in his house, where he meets an artilleryman. They travel together a little, but the narrator loses track of the artilleryman during another Martian attack.
After escaping the Martians (again), the narrator meets a curate. The narrator and the curate travel together, even though the narrator starts to be bothered by the guy. The Martians also start using their second major weapon, the Black Smoke (also patent pending).
Meanwhile, the narrator's brother is in London, so we get to hear all about how things went over there too. At first, people in London worried about the Martians because they didn't realize how powerful the Martians were. Then, later, the Londoners hear that the Martians are advancing on the city, so they all evacuates. On his way out, the brother meets up with two women, Mrs. and Miss Elphinstone, and the three of them escape together. They reach the coast and get a spot on a boat that's going to Ostend. While their boat is shipping out, the Martians attack, but the English navy destroys two of the Martians' tripods.
The narrator and the curate are trapped in a house for a few days because there are Martians camped outside the house. The two men grow to hate each other. The narrator observes the Martians and discovers a lot about them. For example, the Martians survive off of blood (hence, the delight of going after humans). Eventually, the Martians catch the curate, who has been knocked out by the narrator.
Several days later, after the Martians leave the general area, the narrator comes out of his hole in the ground. He discovers that the world is stranger than he left it – it's largely destroyed and covered in a red Martian weed.
The narrator runs into the artilleryman, who tells the narrator all about his plan for a new lifestyle: living underground, playing cricket, and killing Martians occasionally. The narrator is very impressed by this plan and wants to subscribe to the artilleryman's newsletter. However, while the artilleryman talks the talk, he doesn't walk the walk, so the narrator leaves him. No cricket for them.
The narrator makes his way to London, which he discovers is a mess. (Probably soccer hooligans.) He eventually discovers that the Martians are all dead – they died from some bacteria or disease that humans are immune to. He finds his wife again and thinks about how the Martian invasion has made people rethink some of the things they thought they knew.