Over to Chris:
I found this a very difficult exercise, so let me explain some parameters. I chose only one novel from each of my favorite authors. So I didn’t put in every book Dorothy Dunnett wrote, or even all those that Alexander Dumas put his name to. Second, I put some effort into choosing some contemporary authors, because I’m old enough to remember a whole world of authors who are now not widely read. Third, I defined adventure as ‘Anything that I found to be adventure’ rather than, say, limiting myself to ‘Thrillers’ or other genres as currently defined. Finally, ten isn’t enough. So here’s 15. Maybe 16?
Here we go. Not entirely in order—the Three Musketeers is number one, but after that, the next fourteen or fifteen are all basically a tie.
1) The Three Musketeers, by Alexander Dumas. Probably the best adventure story with swords ever written. Dumas was himself a great swordsman, and, I expect, a good friend. His writing is witty—at times, almost comic. The four friends are both epic and very real—their servants even more so. But the very best thing is that there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ There is merely the assumption that people of spirit will undertake adventure—for its own sake, and from worldly ambition. Neither side is morally ‘better.’
2) The Iliad, by Homer The Iliad is not only a great story with great characters and a complex, moving plot—it is also a window to the distant past, and a revelation of how people were the same—and very different—three thousand years ago. Achilles—the model of Ancient Greek manhood—is a far more complex hero than is often seen.
3) King Hereafter, By Dorothy Dunnett All of Dunnett’s books are great romances and great adventure stories. This is the tale of Thorfinn--an historical realization of the ‘real’ Macbeth’ of Shakespeare. A bloody-handed Viking and a great leader and an intellectual for his times. Another very complex character with complex enemies. This book taught me a great deal about how to write—that the ‘bad guys’ think they are heroes, too.
4) The Ionian Mission, by Patrick O’Brian Patrick O’Brian has been described as “Jane Austin for boys.’ Superb, authentic, intricate naval scenes—battles, storms, and beautiful days of sailing—interspersed with intricately plotted SOCIAL adventure—men with men, men with women, the failures to communicate, the issues caused by manners… A world where gong to a party while in disgrace can require more courage than facing the cannon’s mouth.
5) The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. Please do not make me pick one. Tolkien—need I say more? The grandest vision, with the most intricate detail.
6) The Honorable Schoolboy, by John Le Carre Le Carre writes character like no one else, but his plots—his infinitely intricate plots with dead ends and failures and a complete lack of ‘novelized reality’ and a sort of morally neutral stance… He certainly has spying down pat!
7) Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry The most epic western, a cattle drive from Texas to Montana as the ‘old west’ slips away on two rugged veterans of its worst days. Again, a novel about motivations and relationships—the most unforgettable scene, where the two heroes enter a tavern as old men, where the photo of the two of them as heroes sits behind the bar—and no one knows them. Mmmmm. And what follows. Read it yourself!
8) Kim, by Rudyard Kipling In some ways, the seminal adventure story of our time—spying, and some colonial claptrap, but also some amazing detail and some real knowledge of the character of the young. And so beautifully written.
9) The Mote in God’s Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle For me, this is the best Sci-Fi adventure ever written. First alien contact, with actual aliens who aren’t soft and furry or giant monsters. At the same time, a real tool to examine ourselves—like a good sci-fi story should be. I read this about 60 times as a teenager, and I’m pretty sure I joined the US Navy because of it!
10) The White Company, by Arthur Conan Doyle This book was the second or third adventure story of my youth. It had knights, and archers, and a lot of other things that stuck in my head. Vastly over-romanticized, but yet with a wealth of historical detail, and solid characters—who may be too good to be true, but yet manage to be petty and grand and funny and deadly serious. Also the best last stand…
11) Sharpe’s Rifles, By Bernard Cornwell Cornwell’s descriptive powers need no boost from me, but this, the first of the Sharpe books, I must have read 20 times at age seventeen or so. It helped confirm my love of reenacting the horse and musket era, and it made me want to read more—lots more—about the actual period. Cornwell is an excellent historical writer—his HISTORY is part of the story. And the story rips along at James Bond pace. I don’t require that, but for Sharpe—it works.
12) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, by the Pearl Poet An awesome tale of Chivalrous adventure, with strong characters, exciting and somewhat alien motivations—it is a sort of wellspring for me, when I’m writing about the Middle Ages, to go back and re-read this. The differing motivations and the willingness to use violence—elegant, expert violence—is better than any modern fantasy I’ve read.
13) The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein OK, this is the other great Sci-Fi novel, and it could go higher on the list. In some ways, it is the perfect adventure novel. It’s not long, it rips along, starts small and goes big, and is packed full of big ideas.
14) Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield. The single best Historical Fiction novel. Pressfield’s immersion in Ancient Greece is superb, and takes the reader there in a page. The adventure—the story of the three hundred—is one of the best of all time
15) The King Must Die, by Mary Renault And Renault is the ‘other’ great writer of fiction about Ancient Greece; I read all her books when I was 15. And again, about ten years ago, and they had lost nothing. She captures an almost artistic feel for the Classical world—utterly different from Pressfield, and yet both is telling a ‘truth.’
16) The Hydrogen Sonata, by Ian M. Banks Ian Banks is my favorite modern author—I shelve whatever I’m doing every time one of his books comes out. I love the Culture—I love the pace—I love the way his adventures offer insights into our world—I love the way the super-intelligent ships talk to each other like teenaged boys. And his plots and his grasp of politics. And everything else.
But wait! Where’s Rosemary Sutcliffe? Dorothy Sayers? A.A. Milne? Arthur Ransome? Terry Pratchett? Jim Butcher? C.J. Cherryh? Michael Ondaatje? Sir Thomas Mallory and William Shakespeare and Jane Austen and… and Steinbeck! And Chretien de Troyes! And—wait! What about Frederick Forsyth and Colleen McCullough? Good god, I don’t have a single Hemingway story here. Or the Last of the Mohicans! And where is George McDonald Fraser?
Hopeless. Let me read all these again and try and winnow the list down to—say—twenty-five.
Thanks to Chris for taking the time to write this list for us. There are far too many on that list that I haven't read, and that's the second time in almost as many days that someone has named Lonesome Dove as one of their favourite books (author Will Hill said it was one of his favourite reads of 2012).
Don’t miss the last stop on our Tom Swan blog tour and an exclusive competition - tomorrow at For Winter Nights
You can catch the previous blog tour stop here.