King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard (1885) 224 p.

King Solomon’s Mines was reputedly written on a wager, with H. Rider Haggard betting a friend that he could write a better adventure novel than Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. It’s a classic adventure novel, with three stiff upper lip Englishmen venturing into the South African veldt in search of a lost brother and the fabled treasures of King Solomon’s mines.

I haven’t read Treasure Island, but if it’s anything like Stevenson’s Kidnapped, which I read and enjoyed a few weeks ago, I would personally say that Haggard failed his bet. King Solomon’s Mines contains all the elements of a proper adventure novel – kitting up for an expedition, nearly dying in the wilderness, uncovering a Lost World kingdom, huge battles, restoring a rightful king, being trapped in a treasure chamber etc. – it’s almost as though he’s following a recipe.

I found myself quite bored throughout, particularly during the wooden and lifeless battle scenes. This is fairly typical of 19th century novels, as far as I’m concerned, and it was more that Kidnapped pleasantly surprised me than that King Solomon’s Mines let me down. But Stevenson is certainly the better writer; he has a wit and a charm about him that is wholly lacking in Haggard, which is unsurprising, given that the latter wrote a formulaic novel just to win five pounds.