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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BOOK REVIEW: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol. 1) by Alan Moore

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1 by Alan Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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For those unfamiliar with this series or the movie featuring Sean Connery, this graphic novel assembles a team of heroes from 19th century science fiction and adventure novels. Specifically, the team includes: Mina Harker (of Bram Stroker’s Dracula), Allan Quatermain (of H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mine series), Captain Nemo (of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and other Jules Verne novels), Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel featuring their names), and Hawley Griffin (of the H.G. Wells novel, The Invisible Man.) The team’s principle nemesis is Professor James Moriarty of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series.

Interestingly, this book follows the same general plot progression as the movie, but is much different in tone, settings, and character details. The plot progression of which I refer is that the team is assembled (with no small amount of mutual animosity) and they bond into a team as they face a grandiose threat of steampunk industrialization run amok. That plot progression aside, you’ll find an entirely different story otherwise. First, those who favor gender equality will appreciated that Mina Harker is in a leadership role in this volume, the role played by Quatermain in the movie. (That being said, this isn’t a group of individuals who take readily to being led.) Second, those who like darker, grittier tales will find this book more appealing than the movies. Allan Quatermain is found by Harker wasted in an opium den. Griffin is captured after having moved into a girl’s school to use his invisibility to lecherous advantage and the head mistress of said school is decidedly dominatrix like. I generally liked the grittier tone better, though it was hard to reconcile Griffin’s abhorrent behavior with heroism—anti-heroes are a challenge, particularly one who can disappear at will. Third, the team in the book is smaller and more manageable, with the movie having taken on two more characters (Dorian Gray and Tom Sawyer.) Finally, the book doesn’t get around so much. The movie features at least four major settings—not counting the high seas, but the book takes place mostly in Victorian London.

You don’t have to have read all the classic works from which the characters derive to get the story, but it does make it a little more fun. (Yes, I realize that I’m using “classic” for books–some of which–were considered the pulp fiction of their day. However, if your book is still in print after 100 years, I’d say you deserve the status and respect.) Those who’ve read the books will get some subtleties that aren’t critical to the story but are kind of nifty. That being said, don’t expect the characters to match their originals perfectly. The novels covered are wide-ranging, some rely on supernatural elements and others are more realistic, some are futuristic while others reflect the times more accurately. One can’t bring all these individuals into one world and have them be exactly as they were in their original domains.

There are some extra features at the end including a short story featuring a time traveling Allan Quatermain and some art from the series.

I’d recommend this book for those who read comics and graphic novels—especially if they’ve read the stories of at least a few of the 19th century characters. (If you haven’t read any of the novels, you should probably go back and hit some classics before you read anything else. Just my opinion.) It’s an intriguing concept, and it’s done well.

The movie trailer is here.

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