Stars: 4 / 5
The Explorers Guild (Volume I: A Passage to Shambhala) is an illustrated book by crime thriller author Jon Baird along with Academy Award winner Kevin Costner and Stephen Meyer published in October of 2015. Most of the book is filled with illustrations done by Rick Ross. The book is an adventure story about a secret society of voyagers who go on missions to discover the mysteries and unravel the secrets that lie beyond this world / dimension.
First time I came across this book, I had to take a second glance before I said "Yes, it is indeed Kevin Costner's book." He has been one of my favorite actors too and remember his performance in movies like The Untouchables (I wrote about this movie recently. Check my link here), Dancing with Wolves, Message in a Bottle, Dragonfly and as recent as Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (I wrote about this movie too. Check my link here). So it was natural for me to pick and read it. And now my review too. I hope you will like it the same way I loved it.
The book opens with an introduction by someone called E. W. Blake who takes you into this club called the Explorers Guild, supposedly formed by someone called Augustus. You see, the narrator mentions that the Guild consists of adventurers who want to explore the unknown and know it just like Augustus who as a kid had disappeared in a church in Manila and appeared three days later outside the Bruneian Summer Palace - all because he wanted to explore where the Spanish Catacombs lead to. And the Prologue gives a glimpse into what kind of adventures these explorers went on.
The entire Volume One is written in the form of five mini books. Book One introduces the Great War, Corporal Buchan and John Ogden - brother of Arthur Ogden and according to the Prologue he and his party were lost at the pole in the winter of 1912 - who sets on an adventure. In August of 1917 Corporal Buchan is running a dispatch from Bombay for a Major Ogden and that he might catch him at Al-Shar if he ran. He reaches Fao where the 6th (Poona) Rifles across the sands rests. Upon denied a horse, he steals the Lt-Gen Townshend's Muniqi Arabian and goes on his way to Al-Shar to deliver his message. He reaches Al-Shar passes the dead village and into the castle where he finds Ogden finally and delivers the message - search for Arthur Ogden and the mysterious city of Shambala. Major Ogden immediately has his men - Fifth Dragoon Guards - pack up, ransack the loot and then ride west for the Syrian coast to whatever adventure the message sends him. Corporal Buchan follows the same road as his curiosity gets the better of himself.
Book Two opens with an excerpt from Arthur Ogden's journal where Arthur mentions his team of "explorers" that consists of (other than himself) Malthrop - Arthur's childhood friend, Apsley - Malthrop's brother-in-law, Thierry - a French Belgian naturalist, Numm-Smythe - a disinherited lord, Gaddis - master of the Grog, Dickson - a photographer and finally Mr. Vitti - an Italian who tagged along without anyone realizing he didn’t come with any of them. And of course he mentions their Cousin Cyril Aiken - the British ambassador. And he chronicles about how he happened to get on to this adventure. In parallel the author proceeds on to tell the journey of Major John Ogden too. We are introduced to Evelyn Harrow in this. As well as shows us who the mysterious Mr. Sloan is, although he still remains a mystery. And also of the orphan Bertram Barnes.
Book Three opens with Major John Ogden, his troops and Bertram Barnes along with a myriad of travelers (more like prisoners) aboard a private steam yacht "Little Girl of Safi". Some of the passengers are Mr. Devang - had been jailed for murdering two alpinists and is an occult-mad - Lodewijk Geerts - who claims to have seen a city in the walls of the tunnels beneath the Mahali-pa-siri, en extinct volcano - Colonel Otto Riebling - an aerialist falls from his balloon after seeing a symbol on the trunk of a banyan tree and becomes obscure for the next twenty-two years - Wilhelmina Van Doessler - a botanist who had become lame after a crash of her tripod and camera on to her when she fell back onto a kapok bough - and Emi Logner - engineer and lecturer at the University of Aarhus. They sail to Manhattan Island. United States and it is 1918 by the time they reach. There is one maid Miss Anne Maguire from the New York City Lodge of the Explorers Guild comes across bits and pieces of information while serving at the Guild that piques her interest enough for her to check on Major John Ogden and his crew once they land in New York while Miss Evelyn Harrow follows them without being seen. What is the history behind Mr. Sloan and the Ogdens? Who had instigated Arthur Ogden on this journey in the first place? And who is still driving Major John Ogden by the hook now? What does Sloan want with all these travelers from Ogden's ship and with Bertram Barnes? We get to see Arthur Ogden and their sister Frances Ogden too in this.
Book Four has all parties putting aside their differences and striving towards one purpose - finding the mystical city Shambhala. With the help of Miss Evelyn Harrow's famed friends they secure the Luftschiff Metternich, a blimp or a barrage balloon, and all of Major John Ogden and his crew (of the original forty only Messrs. Priddish, Shaw, Pensette, Mulcairn, Renton, Gurung, O'Hra, Pandit and Henry are left), Colonel Buchan, Mr. Sloan and Bertram Barnes ride it through the air to the possible location of Shambhala. And they have a helper aboard called Heiner. We come to know Miss Harrow has first heard about the Shambhala. And Major John Ogden gets the way to Shambhala and hopefully rescue his brother from whatever he is going through. However Mr. Sloan has an ulterior motive. What is it?
The last but not the least Book Five takes us through the final journey of Major Ogden and his crew to the Shambhala. Major Ogden, his remaining crew (Messrs. Priddish, Shaw, Pensette, Mulcairn, Renton, Gurung, O'Hra, Pandit and Henry), the horse Caspian, Miss Evelyn Harrow and Bertram Barnes travel to the Al-Shar to find the entrance to the lost waterways beneath the capitals of the ancient world. They pass through the entrance and find an ancient submarine kind of ship that they use to travel across the lost rivers. And finally will they reach the city of Shambhala? What is the fate of the Ogdens?
The book is set in the 1917s India and surrounding countries. I was pleased to see Hindi used in many illustrations. However the language is so different from what we speak now. It is also mostly written through eyes of the narrator as he narrates the story as he sees - makes you wonder if he was part of the adventure with the characters. There are several parallel plots that go through the books, some present, and some from past, and confused me a bit for the first two books. But it all made sense once I was traversing through Book Three and pieces started falling in place. A journey well narrated and illustrated that makes one feel part of it literally and physically. I am curious to see what Volume Two will bring - another Shambhala? Another journey?
It’s a lengthy read so I suggest you settle well with something to drink by and enjoy the travel. You might find those hidden places that you want to visit all along.