Jude Fisher’s latest book is Wild Magic, the second volume of the Fool’s Gold trilogy. She also wrote the companion books to the Lord of the Rings film trilogy and, as Jane Johnson, is publishing director of HarperCollins’s SF/fantasy/horror imprint, Voyager.
1. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
Surely the ultimate adventure story – which for me is defined as vivid, page-turning, thrilling action which whisks you a long way away from your armchair, bed, bath or beach-towel. For me, it was under the blankets with a torch at age 12, all evening, all night and skipping school with well-feigned illness the next day to finish this glorious, magical, inspiring tale of courage against all odds. It was a true life-changer: I eventually ended up as publisher of the books, wrote tie-ins to the movie trilogy and an epic adventure of my own, none of which would have happened without reading Tolkien.
2. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Ah, pirates, parrots and treasure maps! By turns terrified, thrilled and captivated by RLS’s classic tale, I spent my childhood exploring caves on the local beach searching for the bones of long-dead sailors and pieces of eight. As an adult, rereadings reward you with superb writing and characterisation: John Silver is a far more intricate and subtle creation than the hundred and one parodies he spawned.
3. Touching the Void by Joe Simpson
I defy anyone not to read this gripping story, Simpson’s first book, in a single sitting. Even though my rational mind was whispering that the author must by some miracle have survived his horrifying fall on the way back down from an Andean peak, my heart was racing and (as a climber) my palm sweating in sympathy as the tale unfurled in all its appalling detail. Amazing, real-life adventure.
4. In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
Philbrick, director of maritime studies in Nantucket, serves up the phenomenal true story which inspired Melville to write Moby-Dick. A rogue white whale really did attack a whaling ship (the Essex, in 1820) and the tale which subsequently unrolls is even more bizarre, baroque and gothic than anything in Melville. The gory descriptions of shipwrecked sailors driven to madness and cannibalism provided fine source material for a disastrous voyage in my own fiction.
5. Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier
I went to school very close to Bodmin Moor, where the real Jamaica Inn stands today, sadly transformed into a disappointing tourist trap rather than the stark, forbidding and thoroughly atmospheric setting for this fabulous story of wreckers and smugglers and black secrets.
6. Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb
The gripping first instalment of a tale of adventure on the high seas from the author of the wonderful Farseer novels. Althea Vestrit, a terrifically feisty heroine, dreams of captaining her own family liveship – a vessel made from magical wizardwood, a sentient material with mysterious connections to the world’s last dragons which talks back to its sailors. Hobb writes wonderful characters and magnificent narratives.
7. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
The harrowing tale of a number of doomed attempts on Everest told by the world’s craziest and finest adventure sportswriter, himself a member of one of the disaster-struck expedition teams. Like Touching the Void, this is utterly gripping and unputdownable: I read it while on holiday in Spain and despite 95-degree heat, found myself shivering at his extraordinary evocations of the death zone. Brilliant, scary stuff.
8. The Road to Miklagard by Henry Treece
My obsession with the Viking age I attribute directly to reading Henry Treece when I was eight. Here you’ll find longships, duels, axes and fearsome voyages across unimaginable expanses of ocean all the way from Norway to far Byzantium, delivered in an elegantly sparse style. Treece gives you an awful lot of story for not very many words; which meant I devoured book after book and learned a fair bit of very digestible history on the way.
9. Sharpe’s Eagle by Bernard Cornwell
The first of the series introduces the bold, intelligent, roguish and engaging Richard Sharpe, a man used to living off his wits and taking whatever opportunities life affords him. This one tells the cracking tale of how, under the command of Wellesley – not yet the Duke of Wellington – Sharpe fights at the bloody battle of Talavera, in the Peninsular War. Despite danger from enemies on his own side of the battlefield, through guts, cunning and sheer luck Sharpe saves his own life and the honour of the regiment. I’ve read the entire lot – they’re completely addictive.
10. Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson
Robinson is better known for his massive future history of the terraforming and colonisation of Mars but this eco-thriller is a tremendous rollercoaster ride set in this world’s last wilderness, a mineral-rich area targeted by multinational oil companies, conniving governments and the tourist industry. Robinson creates brilliant people who carry his idea-packed narratives effortlessly and entertainingly, all the while prompting you to think pretty hard about the state of the world today and how we may preserve it.