Best Book Blog

One Red Dot by David A. Carter




The Call of the Wild by Jack LondonI read a good number of books. Some stick with me. Some fade away very quickly. Those rollicking tales of adventure I read mostly as a child are ingrained into my mind. I have revisited some of them as an adult and the experience can be exhilarating. Not only do the heroes and villains come rushing back but the bedroom where I first read that tale of bravery, conflict, and intrigue returns into focus. Adventures in faraway places, especially when they are entwined with historical facts, just don’t seem that far-fetched when you are eight or nine. Anything is possible.

Smuggling, pirates, desert islands, rebellions, undiscovered regions, forts, spies, family feuds, nature at its most brutal and lots of fights are the stuff of old-fashioned adventure yarns. The 20 books below all have staying power and should never be forgotten. Many were published at the start of the 20th century, a golden age for adventure (because the world was actually like that to some extent), but the genre as we know it dates back to Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in 1719. Hollywood has always loved these books because the plots put the characters in physical danger, and twisted and turned to keep you reading.

Many of these novels were intended for children but, like so many good books, were also adored by adults. Perhaps it’s time for a hefty dose of nostalgia or even to discover the ones you missed. If you know a teenager glued to the Nintendo, introduce them to my friends, Davie Balfour, Jim Hawkins, Allan Quatermain and Richard Hannay. They are more super than Mario.

Top 20 Timeless Tales of Adventure

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff
1. Eagle of the Ninth Rosemary Sutcliff
(1954)


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This adventure (written for children) set in Roman Britain left an indelible mark on my childhood. It’s about a young Roman officer’s quest to discover the truth about the disappearance of his father’s legion when attempting to tame the Celts. Rather like Kipling looking at the British living among the Indians, Sutcliff describes the Romans living among the barbarian British. The glory of Rome is far away.
Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner
2. Moonfleet
J. Meade Falkner
(1954)


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There’s nothing like beating the system. For centuries, smuggling was an essential part of life after-dark on Britain’s south coast. Every visit to Dorset in my summer holidays inspired me to re-read this book and every seaside pub looked like a haven for contraband. The hero is 15-year-old orphan John Trenchard, who tangles with a gang of smugglers and their desperate quest for a huge diamond. It’s a breathless adventure with murder, mystery, and intrigue.
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
3. Kidnapped
Robert Louis Stevenson
(1886)

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I’m sorry but Kidnapped is better than Treasure Island. Although young Davie Balfour is the main protagonist, I always loved the character of Alan Breck Stewart – the Scottish resistance fighter who really existed.

Set in 1752, the plot focuses on the murder of Colin Campbell. It uses real events to great effect and Davie’s travels around the Highlands are memorably described. A sequel, Catriona, was penned in 1893.
King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard
4. King Solomon’s Mines
H. Rider Haggard
(1885)

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I loved this story because it took me to faraway places. Allan Quatermain (a wonderful name) leads some adventurers deep into an unexplored region of Africa. In the 1970s, an undiscovered region sounded quite feasible to me – in 1885, it was very feasible. The book sparked of a flurry of Africa-based adventure tales. Haggard wrote the story very quickly after someone challenged him to write something as good as Treasure Island.
The 39 Steps by John Buchan
5. The Thirty-Nine Steps
John Buchan
(1915)

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I fear today’s teenagers might think this is a very long self-help book. John Buchan was a stuffy old aristocrat but The Thirty-Nine Steps is a thrilling spy adventure. Like Buchan, the hero Richard Hannay has a stiff upper lip but he’s also an all-action hero. Set in 1914, the Great War is just days away and spies are on every corner. There’s a murderous German plot to steal Britain’s military secrets and Hannay clocks up the train miles to defend King and country.
The Gun by C.S. Forester
6. The Gun
CS Forester
(1933)


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Remember the movie version? It was called The Pride and the Passion and starred Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and an incredibly foxy Sophia Loren.

The Gun tells the story of a British officer and a group of Spanish guerrilla fighters, who drag a massive cannon across Spain in a bid to capture a key town from Bonaparte’s French. Forester is famous for his eternally popular Hornblower books but The Gun deserves to be reloaded.
Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore
7. Lorna Doone
RD Blackmore
(1869)


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Whoa! This is a romance I hear you say. I sneaked Lorna Doone off my sister’s bookshelf and its intrigue, loads of nasty violence and vicious arch villain, made it seem more like an historical adventure to me. Only 500 first editions were printed. Seventeenth century Somerset, famed for cider, and Devon, famed for cream teas, are portrayed as rural, rough and lawless. Sort of like Tombstone with thatched cottages. The book popularized the name, Lorna.
Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
8. Jamaica Inn
Daphne du Maurier
(1946)


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I sneaked this one off my mother’s bookshelf. Like Lorna Doone, Jamaica Inn is hardly a romance – it’s another breathless adventure where the pub trade is once again closely linked with the smuggling business. This time Cornwall gets the criminal treatment. Poor 23-year-old Mary Yellan goes to live with her aunt at Jamaica Inn but her aunt’s husband is up to no good. Wreckers abound. Bodmin Moor also has a starring role – it’s more threatening than Hardy’s tedious Egdon Heath.
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
9. The Call of the Wild
Jack London
(1903)

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London’s finest hour, The Call of the Wild is one heck of a dog book. Buck’s natural instincts of survival kick in after he ends up as a sled dog in the Yukon during the 19th century Klondike gold rush. This is a tough, uncompromising story with violence and evil.

London actually left the warmth of California to join the Gold Rush where he had a miserable time and caught Scurvy. If you enjoy The Call of the Wild, you’ll also like White Fang by London.
Beau Geste by P.C. Wren
10. Beau Geste
P. C. Wren
(1924)


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A classic tale of family honor where the French Foreign Legion battles Tuareg rebels in the North African deserts. I have always loved the idea of the fort being manned by a troop of dead soldiers – it’s one of the classic scenes in literature.

Would a child reading this book today understand the principle of honor and the desire to avoid family disgrace which is the fundamental theme behind this novel? Hollywood used to love this book, I still do.
The Four Feathers by A.E.W. Mason
11. The Four Feathers
A.E.W. Mason
(1902)

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I love this book. Like Beau Geste, it’s hopelessly old fashioned and also concerns honor among Britain’s warlike toffs. There was nothing worse than being called coward in Empire-building Britain. Harry Feversham loses everything after being labelled a coward through the presentation of four feathers. Harry bids to restore his honor in Africa where the Dervishes are battling General Gordon’s British forces. Damn, the Brits are good in a fight.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
12. Treasure Island
Robert Louis Stevenson
(1883)

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My favorite scene is when Billy Bones is handed the black spot by the world’s scariest blind man but I also love the battle for the stockade - my favorite character is cheese-obsessed Ben Gunn. It scares me that today’s generation of children could miss out on reading books like Treasure Island. The hero is just a kid, the villain is unforgettable and the story’s dominant character, there’s plenty of fighting and the tension builds and builds.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
13. The Count of Monte Cristo
Alexandre Dumas
(1844)

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I have always thought revenge was a sweet topic for adventure yarns.

Captain Edmond Dantès is falsely imprisoned but he encounters a priest in jail who gives him the location of a secret treasure trove. Dantès escapes, becomes the wealthy Count of Monte Cristo and sets about gaining revenge.

Much better than The Three Musketeers novels. They literally don’t write books like this anymore.
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
14. Robinson Crusoe
Daniel Defoe
(1719)

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The great granddaddy of all adventure books. Three hundred years ago, Britain ruled the world’s waves and shipwrecks were commonplace. This novel was probably influenced by experiences of Alexander Selkirk, who was marooned on an island in the Pacific for four years. People say it’s an example of British colonialism. I think the book simply plays on the very basic fear of being isolated from humanity. Footprints in the sand! Skim over the racist descriptions of Friday.
The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
15. The Prisoner of Zenda
Anthony Hope
(1894)

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It took me a long time to realize that Ruritania is a made-up nation. I thought it had been rubbed off the map following World War I.

This adventure novel uses the old lookalike theme (Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, CS Lewis’ The Horse and his Boy etc ). The king of Ruritania is abducted and a holidaying British toff, who looks the spitting image of his highness, steps into this place.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
16. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Jules Verne
(1870)

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We can’t really exclude Verne from this list although Vingt mille lieues sous les mers is really a science fiction novel. Twenty Thousand Leagues refers to the distance travelled under water and not the depth. Captain Nemo, the Nautilus and the fight with the giant squids are all part of literary history. Verne’s rip-roaring yarn didn’t stay science fiction for long - he illustrated the military might submarines would soon wield over surface vessels.
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
17. Kim
Rudyard Kipling
(1901)



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The Great Game (the rivalry between the British and Russian Empires in central Asia) provides the back-drop to this novel.

Kim is the orphaned son of an Irish soldier living on his wits. He becomes involved with a Tibetan Lama and the British secret services in the push and shove against the Russians.

The well-travelled Kipling delves deeply into Indian culture and religion.
The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
18. The Lost World
Arthur Conan Doyle
(1912)



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Never mind the arrogant Sherlock Holmes, follow the pushy Professor Challenger to a South American plateau where dinosaurs are alive and well and hungry. A science fiction romp, of course, but it sparked the ‘Lost World’ genre. Plenty of pterodactyls and a race of ape-men too. Easy to confuse this book with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot, published four years later, where German submariners discover a lost land.
Lost in the Barrens by Farley Mowat
19. Lost in the Barrens
Farley Mowat
(1956)


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This children’s novel penned by Mowat, a Canadian legend, is also known as Two Against the North.

Two boys, one white and one from the Cree tribe, try to help a starving native village but become trapped in Canada’s frozen tundra in deep winter. They battle a giant bear in an unforgettable sequence, snow blindness, river rapids and the freezing temperatures.
The Wool-Pack by Cynthia Harnett
20. The Wool-Pack
Cynthia Harnett
(1951)



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I’m putting this one in for Mrs Hughes, my old English teacher, who made us read this book in school. It won the Carnegie Medal in 1951.

Set 600 years before insider trading, AIG bonuses and Bernie Madoff, this book focuses on corporate intrigue in the wool trade. Nicholas Fetterlock and Cecily Bradshaw take on some wooly villains.

A children’s book jammed full of history.

More for the armchair adventurer: