Adventure

STARDUST by Neil Gaiman

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The village of Wall sits on the border between the mortal world and Faerie.  Usually, guards stand at either side of the break in the wall that separates the village from the faerie meadow.  But once every nine years, the faerie market comes to the meadow at Wall, and the villagers and Faerie folk mingle freely.  It is on one such market day that the ordinary shepherd Dunstan Thorn meets the beautiful young woman, slave of a witch merchant, who is his heart’s desire.  And it is nine months later that an infant is left in the gap between the wall bearing the name Tristran Thorne.

At age 17, Tristran finds a love of his own and vows to retrieve a falling star from Faerie so that Victoria will agree to marry him—or at least to give him a kiss.  But with ancient witches, ruthless assassins, murderous trees, and other strange magics, Tristran’s quest into the land of his birth turns out to be much more challenging and exciting than he expected.

Another awesome Neil Gaiman audiobook narrated by Neil Gaiman!  Stardust is a true fairytale romance for adults.  Gaiman draws on the tropes and laws of traditional faerie lore to craft a compelling and dangerous magical world.  As usual, his storytelling is masterful; he brings together numerous plotlines and resolves them in complex, unexpected, yet perfect ways.  One word I will say against Stardust as an audiobook: Gaiman has a habit of writing some excruciatingly long and confusing sentences.  This is more of an issue in his adult books than his children’s books, and there were definitely a few points where I was jerked out of the story as I tried to decipher what exactly all of the clauses in the last sentence meant.  But it was not egregious, and I still think that Gaiman’s marvelous reading enhanced the story on the whole.

If you liked Stardust, you might like William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, or Cornelia Funke’s Reckless.

SHADA: THE LOST ADVENTURE BY DOUGLAS ADAMS (by Gareth Roberts)

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In the 1970s, Douglas Adams wrote a Doctor Who adventure called “Shada” which was partially filmed (with the iconic Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker) but never finished.  Doctor Who screen writer Gareth Roberts has turned Douglas Adams’ incomplete story into a fast-paced and humorous Sci-Fi novel.

The Doctor and his current traveling companion (and fellow Time Lord) Romana arrive in Cambridge to respond to a call for help from a retired Time Lord who has been posing as a Cambridge professor.  They discover that the professor has been keeping a stolen—and very powerful–Gallifreyan book in his study and has recently misplaced it, much to the Doctor’s distress.  The professor remembers that a student named Chris Parsons came and borrowed a book that afternoon, so the Doctor sets out to find him and the potentially dangerous “Artefact.”  Meanwhile, Skagra, an evil genius with mind-stealing technology, has also arrived in Cambridge with his sights set on the very same book.

Gareth Roberts does an excellent job of writing in the style of Douglas Adams.  Using much of Adams’ original dialogue and ideas, Roberts expands and completes the story of Shada in a novel that is as humorous and exciting as a Doctor Who adventure should be.  I highly recommend this novel to Douglas Adams fans, Doctor Who fans, or general Sci-Fi lovers (although if you actively dislike Doctor Who and/or Douglas Adams, this is not the book for you).

THE LOST WORLD by Arthur Conan Doyle

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When Gladys told Ned Malone that she could only love him if he did something truly courageous and adventurous, the young journalist despaired.  When would he ever have the opportunity to perform the heroic and extraordinary acts of bravery that Gladys demanded?  But when the investigation of a supposed scientific fraud opens the door for a dangerous expedition to the Amazon, Malone seizes the opportunity immediately (and against his better judgment).  Together with a rugged hunter and outdoorsman (Lord John) and a skeptical professor of zoology (Summerlee), Malone travels from England to South America in order to try the outlandish claims of Professor Challenger, who claims to have discovered a plateau where prehistoric dinosaurs roam, unevolved.   As their adventure gets underway, however, all quickly realize that the plateau is indeed inhabited by creatures far more strange and dangerous than even Professor Challenger had imagined . . . .

Most people are familiar with Sherlock Holmes, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s science fiction novel is every bit as exciting and engaging as his mysteries.  As with most of Conan Doyle’s works (and the writings of many of his contemporaries), you must be prepared for his racism which colors the text, particularly the portrayal of the native tribes of the Amazon and the African servant, Zambo.  But if you can accept the work as a product of its time, the adventure on the plateau and the imagining of the prehistoric monsters are quite compelling.  Michael Crichton (of Jurassic Park fame) has cited Conan Doyle’s novel and an inspiration for his own Lost World.  But while Crichton’s stories lean heavily toward the action-thriller genre, Conan Doyle devotes considerable attention to the thrill of discovery and the explorers’ sense of wonder at the beauties and horrors of this newly-discovered (insofar as the English are discovering an already inhabited land…) world.  I highly recommend The Lost World to those who love science fiction and/or the classics, for though it is lesser known, I found it as well-written and engaging as Sherlock’s stories, though in a different way.

THE HOBBIT, OR THERE AND BACK AGAIN by J.R.R. Tolkien

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Bilbo Baggins was a polite and respectable hobbit who lived in a neat little hobbit-hole in the Shire and never, ever did anything unexpected.  That is, until the wizard Gandalf the Grey and a company of thirteen dwarves show up on his doorstep and suddenly sweep him off on an adventure.  The dwarves have been wandering for years since their home under the Lonely Mountain was conquered by Smaug the dragon.  Thorin Oakenshield believes the time is right to lead his followers back to the mountain and reclaim his grandfather’s treasure.  For reasons he does not fully explain, Gandalf has chosen Bilbo as the “burglar” who will help the dwarves reclaim their home (although poor Bilbo has never stolen anything in his life).  The quest begins with unfortunate encounters with mountain trolls and goblins, and Bilbo worries that he may not be cut out for adventuring after all.  But when a misadventure in the Misty Mountains leads him to discover a magical ring, Bilbo’s luck turns for the better, and he may become a successful burglar at last. 

Tolkien’s classic precursor to the Lord of the Rings trilogy is truly a children’s book–lighthearted and full of adventure, humor, and magic.  Elementary-age readers who enjoy fantasy such as Harry Potter or the Redwall books will love The Hobbit, although younger or less skilled readers may prefer it as a family read-aloud since it is not an easy text.  It is an engaging book, however, and many reluctant readers find that the story motivates them to read it again and again despite the initial struggle.

If you liked The Hobbit, you may also enjoy The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Odd and the Frost Giants, Charmed Life, The Secret of Platform 13, Magyk, Peter Pan, Peter and the Starcatchers, Gregor the Overlander, and Redwall.