I can’t remember when I first became entranced with lost and forgotten cities. I think I stumbled on Gods, Graves and Scholars when I was a preteen. Then there were tales of Pompeii, hidden and preserved beneath the ash fall of Vesuvius. I well recall reading in Kipling’s Jungle Book both the tale of “The King’s Ankus” and also of the horrific fight of Bagheera, Baloo and Kaa the rock python versus the monkeys of the crumbling city engulfed in jungle in “Kaa’s Hunting.” So the infection began early.
Gods, Graves and Scholars, my introduction to lost cities, is an old book by C.W. Ceram. First published in 1951, a year before I was born, it tells the tale of the unearthing of Troy, and the unearthing of King Tut’s tomb. The hanging gardens of Babylon! Ancient tablets! This book made me want to be an adventurous archaeologist. I still heartily recommend it to anyone who loves romance, adventure and forgotten treasures!
My next book has, alas, not withstood the passage of time so well. SHE by H. Rider Haggard, has overtones that are both sexist and racist to the modern reader. Yet it also has a powerful female character and a cracking-good adventure tale. Horace Holly and his young protégé Leo travel to Africa, where they discover not only an ancient civilization but She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, an extraordinarily beautiful and ‘well preserved’ woman who rules there. She becomes enamored of the handsome Leo. And I will say no more! Read it as a period piece that reflects Victorian culture. Read it for the tale of a powerful woman!
And if you enjoy SHE, then follow it with King Solomon’s Mines, also by H Rider Haggard. Elephant hunter Allan Quartermain sets off to discover the fabled mines of King Solomon. Again, enter this domain with a high tolerance for Victorian era concepts about Africa. Consider that part of the experience educational and the rest of the adventure fun.
Have you had enough of old books? Brace yourself. You know Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as the author of the Sherlock Holmes tales, but he wrote in a variety of worlds. The White Company would take you back to the days of chivalry. Doyle was a Spiritualist and a firm believer in mediums and communication from beyond the grave. But in The Lost World he carries us off to South America, and a hidden land of surviving dinosaurs and ape-men! Again, you will encounter outdated values blended into a masterful tale.
And finally, a book that is less than fifty years old but, in my opinion, never received the attention it deserved. Also, I’m cheating. Because this tale is actually told in two books. Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, author of the Nebula award winning Healer’s War and frequent collaborator with Anne McCaffrey is mostly known for her light and humorous tales, often involving cats and magic. But my favorites are her darker works. Healer’s War involves a nurse serving during the Vietnam War and a magic amulet. It well deserved its Nebula. But her two books series Nothing Sacred and Last Refuge tells an equally compelling end-of-the-world tale of a young woman who is captured, brutalized and then imprisoned in an icy and forbidding compound. Without more spoilers for a tale that deserves to unfold at its own pace, I will only mention one word: Shambhala, sometimes known as Shangri-la!
I enjoyed each of these novels in very different ways. I hope you will, too.
Originally published August 2015.
Robin Hobb is the author of the Farseer Trilogy (Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin and Assassin’s Quest). She returns to Buckkeep, and two of her favorite characters, with the Fitz and the Fool trilogy—Fool’s Quest, the second novel in the new trilogy, is available now from Del Rey.