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BOOK REVIEW: King Solomon’s Mines by Henry Rider Haggard

King Solomon's Mines (Allan Quatermain, #1)King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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A wealthy aristocrat (Sir Henry Curtis) seeks out legendary hunter, Allan Quatermain, to help him find a brother who went missing while in search of the diamond mines of King Solomon. That’s the premise that propels this story. Quatermain leads an expedition that will strike out into in the dark heart of Africa where lives will be repeated put on the line.

This novel was written at a time when lost world stories seized the imagination. With exploration still in progress, it wasn’t fantastic beyond imagination that a new civilization would be stumbled into that was unlike any known. The stories of real life explorers (e.g. Livingston, Burton, Speke, and Stanley) engrossed the public, and people were captivated by the myriad ways to die in Africa. Haggard’s novel echoes the terrors of those real world works, but with emphasis on the more visceral (e.g. warring tribes and wild animals) and less emphasis on the more blasé paths to one’s demise (e.g. being abandoned by one’s porters / supply theft, or contracting a severe case of the shits.)

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It’s readable, particularly for a work of the 19th century. It has enough adventure to maintain tension and keep one reading. That said, it’s not a flawless execution.

The biggest twist is toward the middle, and the ending resolves itself in a disappointing manner. [Remainder of paragraph is vaguely spoilery.] However, one may not notice this on the first read, if one becomes engrossed in the immediate details. To elaborate: the protagonists are put in a dire situation, and to get through it they have to pass through a scary environment. If you are caught up in the feeling of being in that environment, you may not notice the deus ex machina of being there in the first place. Also, the issue of Sir Curtis’s brother feels like it’s handled as an afterthought. If the book was written today, I’d suspect that the author had forgotten all about his inciting incident altogether until an editor told him it was too big of a loose-end to ignore.

I’d recommend this book for readers of adventure and lost world stories.

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