The Explorer takes a simple jungle adventure idea and executes it perfectly [Review]

The Explorer takes a simple jungle adventure idea and executes it perfectly [Review]

The Explorer
By Katherine Rundell
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 1 4088 8219 1

Sometimes the best ideas for a cracking book are the simplest. Take four mismatched kids, strand them in the middle of the Amazon jungle, and challenge them to get home. Katherine Rundell’s latest isn’t exactly Jumanji:Welcome to the Jungle but it is a great, roaring, thrilling adventure that delivers cliffhangers, smiles and wonderful scene-setting along with storytelling of the highest order.

Rundell doesn’t bother with preliminaries, but drops her readers slap-bang into the story. The Explorer may have 400 pages to play with, but Rundell doesn’t waste any time getting the plot going.

A six-seater plane crashes down into the Amazon jungle after its pilot suffers a heart attack. Scary! On board are British teenagers Fred and Con, and two Brazilian children, Lila and Max. The four youngsters climb out of the wreckage of the plane relatively unhurt. Once they have recovered from the shock of what happened, reality dawns on them. How are they going to survive? And how is anyone going to rescue them from this remote location?

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Strangers to each other, the four have to bond if they are going to get out of this predicament alive. They search for edible fruits and insects, and build a crude shelter. Even though they are young, the survivors know they aren’t playing a game. They have to forget their petty differences and pull together in the same direction, or perish.

Rundell’s description of the Amazon jungle is highly cinematic. Readers see the foliage, flowers and trees. And the dangers. The kids are not idiots: they know there are caimans hiding in the river and who knows what else in the undergrowth. The first few chapters are as tense reading as you will find anywhere.  

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The dangers of the jungle leap out of every paragraph, but so does the bravery and resourcefulness of the protagonists. Building a raft, they decide to take to the river and follow an old map they have found stuffed in a tree trunk. Obviously someone has been here before.

The river leads them to an ancient, abandoned city – and to a strange man who just could be a famous explorer who disappeared on an expedition years before. The mystery deepens, and the will-they, won’t-they survival plot takes a left turn.  

The Explorer achieves all it sets out to achieve, and more. It is an action- and mystery-filled adventure backed by classy and cinematic writing. Fans of survival stories will love Rundell’s fast-paced, lush and captivating novel. And so will anyone else who enjoys a classily told tale.

John Millen can be contacted on

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
This jungle adventure takes a simple idea and executes it perfectly


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