Ah, King Solomon’s Mines featuring Allan Quatermain, star of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen! Actually, he’s the star of a whole series of books but where else would I start than the beginning? 🙂
Plot summary – The whereabouts of King Solomon’s legendary diamond mines had been inscribed in blood on an ancient map now in the possession of Allan Quatermain. His enthralling story begins on a ship steaming up the east coast of Africa. On board he meets Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good, and agrees to join their search for Curtis’ younger brother, missing, believed dead, in the interior. Aided by the treasure map, the men set out on a perilous journey, an adventure tense with danger and excitement that culminates in a mountain trek to the vast caves of Solomon – and what they find there.
The book isn’t actually THAT MUCH to do with the diamond mines of King Solomon – the mission and entire point of the novel is to find it, obviously, but the three men spend a great deal of time getting distracted by helping a tribe of African natives rebel against their leader. It’s interesting and I enjoyed it, but it takes an awful, awful lot of walking and shivering for them to get there.
Oh Good Lord, the walking. H. Rider Haggard is clearly a very talented writer- the descriptions of the African landscape are absolutely beautiful. Still, enough is enough. As an example, there are literally two and a half pages about a particular group of stalactites. Stalactites! Come on! It was halfway through the book before the story really started picking up, although I now know way more about elephant hunting than I ever really wanted to.
The action scenes are intense and those are what kept me reading. He doesn’t describe every blow and kick, but you still feel like you’re a spectator desperate for our three heroes to be come out victorious. The battle writing was just so much more interesting to me than the gloomy travel writing, and I’d say it has the best action scenes of any book I’ve ever read.
It was a splendid thing to see those brave battalions come on time after time over the barriers of their dead, sometimes holding corpses before them to receive our spear thrusts, only to leave their own corpses to swell the rising piles. It was a gallant sight to see that sturdy old warrior, Infadoos, as cool as though he were on parade, shouting out orders, taunts, and even jests, to keep up the spirit of his few remaining men, and then, as each charge rolled on, stepping forward to wherever the fighting was thickest, to bear his share in repelling it.
All in all, it’s quite a dry book although it did make me smile a few times. It’s a strange mix of dreary, plodding description and thrilling action that just doesn’t seem to balance out. Although I liked it a lot more by about the half-way point, when I think of King Solomon’s Mines I instantly connect it with plodding oh-so-slowly over a mountain.