Adventure Novels

Night Flight (Vol de Nuit, 1931) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This thrilling book is set during the early days of commercial aviation and relates the story of the daring men who flew night mail aircraft going to Argentina from Paraguay, Chile and Patagonia. It’s the perfect book for everyone who has ever dreamed of experiencing what it was like to fly through a South American hurricane in a 1920s aircraft.

As a young man, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was said to have been prone to daydreaming. Much of what he mentioned about flying and airplanes in his other books served as inspiration for this piece of art. In writing this book, Saint-Exupéry drew on his own flying experiences to create an existentialist classic that has been hailed as a masterpiece. Ideological battles of the 1930s and 40s spurred its rise in popularity owing to its focus on sacrificing oneself for a cause one is passionate about.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) by Mark Twain

It is largely agreed that one of the best American books ever written is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, first published in the United Kingdom in 1884 and then in the United States in 1885. Written by Twain as a follow-up to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn is about a Mississippi River town boy who recounts his adventures while traveling down the river with a runaway slave, Jim. To escape his drunken and violent father, Huck Finn sets off with Jim on a dangerous trek down the Mississippi River, encountering a feuding family, two scoundrels posing as royalty, and Tom Sawyer’s aunt, who thinks he is Tom Sawyer.

It was written in a regional dialect of English, with a strong emphasis on local flavor. Slavery, moral issues, and the hypocrisy of society are only some of the themes explored in this novel. As a result of its in-depth exploration of the American South and the surrounding area together with its often brutal critiques of racism, this book sparked controversy due to alleged racist elements particularly the repeated use of the word “nigger.” Despite the original importance of Tom Sawyer, scholars today rate Huck Finn as Twain’s best work and one of the greatest American novels ever written.

Kidnapped (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson

Robbie Louis Stevenson’s novel, Kidnapped, is a historical-fiction adventure story written for young adults and takes place in post-Jacobite Scotland in the 19th century. The novel was published in 1886 and has been acclaimed by a broad spectrum of writers, including Hilary Mantel. It relates the story of David Balfour, a young man from Scotland’s Lowlands region who is kidnapped and taken to London.

After the death of his father, David travels to Cramond with a message for an uncle he never knew he had. David then realizes that his uncle Ebenezer has defrauded him out of his inheritance by concocting an elaborate plan to sell him into slavery. Alan Breck Stewart, a wanted Scotsman who finds himself on the boat with David, aids him in reclaiming his wealth, a decision that alters both of their futures in unexpected ways.

The Beach (1996) by Alex Garland

The Beach by English author Alex Garland is a story of Richard, a young backpacker who is looking for a legendary, idyllic, and isolated beach in Thailand that hasn’t been crowded by tourists. It turns out, as Richard soon discovers, that the Beach he’s been looking for is a secret lagoon with white sand and coral gardens, freshwater falls encircled by forest and vegetation that have been unaltered for thousands of years.

A closer look at the Beach, however, reveals its culture’s dangerous and even lethal undercurrents. Richard’s apathy turns to rage when he discovers a drug-addled couple with a guy who has died of an overdose. He then realized that the supposedly Edenic paradise on an island in a Thai national park is a utopia that is difficult to sustain since civilized conduct tends to erode without external limits.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870) by Jules Verne

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, a science fiction book by Jules Verne published in 1870, is about Captain Nemo who takes on a journey across the vast and endlessly interesting underwater world with Nautilus, a high-tech submarine that the public has mistaken for a sea monster. To find and eliminate the unknown “monster” that threatens international trade, French oceanographer Pierre Aronnax and his unflappable aide Conseil join a US Navy mission to hunt the monster.

The novel is an astonishing work of science fiction, especially when you consider that it was written more than a century ago. Submarines existed when the novel was written, but they were crude, and the writer had to use his imagination to create his picture of an undersea ship in the future. The book’s title refers to the distance traversed under the seas which is approximately twice the circle of the Earth.

Further Reading

Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry review – The Little Prince for grownups by Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

Is Huckleberry Finn’s ending really lacking? Not if you’re talking psychology. by Maria Konnikova, Scientific American

Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped’ is not just an adventure tale, it’s a timely novel about politics and dissent by Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

Alex Garland’s cult novel The Beach, 20 years on by John Niven, The Guardian

Submarine dreams: Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas by Margaret Drabble, The New Statesman

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