Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Kingdom by Clive Cussler

Clive Cussler covers are epic. Simple, clean and evocative, these covers for me are the kind that inspire you to buy the print version of a book even though it's more expensive than the Kindle version.

And Cussler's new novel, The Kingdom, is no different. With backgrounded Himalaya, snow and dark skies, the book puts you in comfortable-read mode even before you've cracked the spine.


I haven't read any Cussler before. Mostly, aside from the cover, I was drawn to this book by its interest and link in/to the kingdom of Lo Manthang (spelled Monthang in the book but I'll stick to Manthang) in Nepal.

By way of disclaimer, and like any writer would do, I was drawn to read Cussler's exploration of this mystical part of Nepal, because it is also forms the backdrop for crucial scenes in my own upcoming novel.

We are after all as Westerners, it seems, possessed with the idea of a secret Asian kingdom, variously known as Shangri-la or Shamballah, and The Kingdom of Lo in Nepal is one of the best settings to vent this Western Shangri-la fantasy.

The Kingdom starts with a bang. Dakhal, a Sentinel, protector of a magical artefact called the Golden Man, is pursued by evil forces trying to lay siege to the Golden Man. He skillfully throws his attackers off and presumably holes up in a cave, protecting the Golden Man, lost to posterity.
Fast forward to present day. Husband and wife adventure- and hero-team Sam and Remi Fargo are contacted by tycoon and all-round baddie Charles King to find his father who has gone missing in Nepal several years. The couple, used to hunting for treasures and historical artifacts, agree to take on the case. In reality, King is hoping to set them on a goose chase that he hopes will yield the Golden Man, for his own purposes.

Their search leads them to Kathmandu, having discovered a secret Devanagari (an ancient script of India and Nepal) parchment which they have translated by a local professional.

The Fargos will follow a set of clues that lead them to Tibet, Nepal, China, Venice and Siberia to uncover the secrets behind not only the ancient Golden Man legend, but also Charles King's nefarious business dealings.

The race leads to Shangri-la, an ancient complex overgrown with jungle, where they must battle King's wife and two diehard twin children to ensure that King doesn't lay hands on the mysterious artefact.

Along the way, Sam and Remi's characteristic humour and domesticity to approaching life-threatening situations is lighthearted and colourful.

I enjoyed this novel overall, not least because of its Lo Manthang setting, but also for the racy plot and diverse characters: evil where they need to be but not overly stereotypical or flat, and good characters who aren't too saintly, offset by quirkiness.

All round, a light, easy and enjoyable, well-researched read soaked in adventure. Four out of five stars.