Adventure novels for grown-ups

What does adventure mean to you? Is it travelling to far-away lands, investigating a murder, cheating death, going on a good old-fashioned road trip, or running away to join the circus?

We recommend some of our favourite novels that exemplify the spirit of exploration and the dogged pursuit of dangerous truths, risky mysteries and new frontiers of knowledge.


State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Marina Singh, Vogel Pharmaceuticals employee, travels deep into the Amazon jungle to investigate the recent death of her colleague, Anders Eckman, and make contact with the enigmatic researcher Dr Annick Swenson. Swenson refuses to report on the progress of her research, especially to her investors, whose patience is fast running out. When Singh finally locates her one-time professor Swenson and joins her at her rainforest site, murky secrets proliferate around the drug Swenson is developing, the traditional knowledge of the Lakashi tribe and the real fate of Eckman.


Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

When Washington ‘Wash’ Black – an eleven year-old field slave – is selected as personal servant to the eccentric naturalist, explorer and inventor Christopher ‘Titch’ Wilde, a horizon-expanding friendship forms. After a man is killed and a bounty placed on Wash’s head, Titch and Wash (now a young man) escape the Barbados plantation in a hot air balloon, heading for Virginia then the Arctic. When Titch disappears in a snowstorm Wash must make his way alone, to Nova Scotia, London, Amsterdam, and Morocco, in pursuit of his intellectual and artistic potential and trying to find a sense of freedom.


Inland by Téa Obreht

Nora is an unflinching frontierswoman awaiting the return of the men in her life as she bides her time with her youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking the land around their home, and her husband’s seventeen-year-old cousin, who communes with spirits. Lurie is a former outlaw and a man haunted by ghosts. Mythical, lyrical, and sweeping in scope, Inland is grounded in true but little-known history. It showcases all of Téa Obreht’s talents as a writer, as she subverts and reimagines the myths of the American West, making them entirely – and unforgettably – her own.


The Nancys by R.W.R. McDonald

Eleven-year-old Tippy Chan has been left in the care of her Uncle Pike and his boyfriend Devon while her mum goes on a cruise. When one of Tippy’s teachers is found dead next to Riverstone’s only traffic light, Tippy and her two babysitters decide to emulate Nancy Drew and form their own amateur detective agency - ‘The Nancys’. What ensues is a witty and darkly hilarious caper, with sparkling dialogue, grisly finds, mounting danger, a bluntly honest child heroine who is still struggling with the death of her father and a camp uncle set loose in his semi-conservative hometown. All proof that adventure can be found in the New Zealand countryside!


Fall, or Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson

When middle-aged games developer Dodge is pronounced brain dead after a medical procedure gone wrong, his family and friends are surprised by his health directives: his remains are to be given to Ephrata Life Sciences and Health. Dodge’s brain will be scanned, its data structures uploaded to and stored in the cloud. The development of Bitworld – a digital afterlife peopled by simulations – unfolds as Fall, or Dodge in Hell progresses. Fantastical avatar life in Bitworld and the real, but post-truth, world of ‘meatspace’ are paralleled in this fast-paced thriller that is the very definition of visionary near-future adventure.


The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Le Cirque des Rêves appears without warning and is only open at night. Within the bounds of the circus two young magicians, Celia and Marco, are the latest competitors in a generations-long duel, put into battle by their mentors. They’re also in love, and unaware that their competition can only end in the death of one of them. With a supporting cast of acrobats, contortionists, snake-charmers and fortune-tellers, a plot that jumps back and forth in time, and real magic that mingles freely with illusion, this is a magical trip of a book that is intensely visual and defies expectations.

Look out for Morgenstern’s long-awaited next book in November - The Starless Sea.


The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal

British-born Punjabi sisters Rajni, Jezmeen and Shirina have never been close but when their mother dies, she has only one request: that they take a pilgrimage across India to carry out her final rites at various Sikh temples. The three sisters start their road trip isolated in their own individual problems and bickering in the way that only adult siblings who assume they have nothing in common can. But as the second-generation Shergills experiences the joys and frustrations of their parents' homeland, secrets spill out, past events are revealed and the bonds of family are tested and strengthened.

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Tea Obreht

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