I had heard of King Solomon's Mines my entire life but never read it. Now I know what I'd been missing. H. Rider Haggard's breakout novel is a grand, enjoyable adventure, a sort of Indiana Jones prototype from the great age of Victorian imperialism.
The narrator, Allan Quatermain, is a middle-aged big game hunter who has somehow managed to survive decades in the African wilderness. His name is known far and wide, and as a result he is approached by a pair of men with an unusual proposition. One of the men, Sir Henry Curtis, has lost an estranged brother whom he believes was searching for the legendary diamond mines of King Solomon. Quatermain just happens to possess a map and some personal knowledge of the legends, and with a deal in place to grant him half of the diamonds--should they find some as well as Curtis's brother--he agrees to join them on the journey.
Naturally, a great deal more happens to the party than they originally expected. Elephant hunts, witchcraft, and tribal warfare complicate their quest, but in the end all works out well--if unexpectedly--for most involved. Quatermain recounts the tale in a rapid, exciting manner that gripped me from the first chapter. This is one of a very few books I've read in a single day.
This Penguin Classics edition of King Solomon's Mines reproduces the first edition text of Haggard's novel. As an appendix, a heavily-revised chapter from later editions is offered as a point of comparison with the original. The editor's notes are good, though they failed to explain one or two minor things and missed some rather obvious historical allusions. A preface and introduction place Haggard's work in its historical context and offer some interesting critical insights, but are by no means required reading and, honestly, are a little dull next to Allan Quatermain's epic quest.
Overall, King Solomon's Mines is a great adventure story for readers of all ages, with well-drawn characters and exciting episodes on every page. Don't make my mistake and wait so long to read it.