I can’t talk about Summit by Harry Farthing without talking about The Abominable by Dan Simmons. Both involve such striking parallels that one necessarily invokes the other. Let’s see…Mount Everest? Check. Nazis? Check. Invocations of George Lee Mallory, the famous “lost” Everest climber? Check’s in the mail!
I wasn’t expecting much from Summit, to be honest. As part of a 2-for-1 credit deal on Audible, I grabbed it as the second choice in a list of underwhelming choices. But it had one critical piece of kryptonite for this here reader: Mount Everest.
Yes, it was Mr. Dan Simmons who spurred my interest in the famous peak (rumor has it the highest peak in the world.) If you’ve never read Dan Simmons, now is the time to pick up The Terror, for a fantastic piece of Arctic historical fiction with a supernatural twist, or his terrific sci-fi series, Hyperion.
The Abominable is another historical fiction piece, set in the 1920’s, and involves a search on the famous mountain. The searchers are pursued by something that may be terrible, and may or may not involve Nazis.
Summit by Harry Farthing definitely involves Nazis. The narrative alternates between present day, where erstwhile mountain guide Quinn is haunted by a catastrophe at the summit, and a 1930’s era tale of a Nazi with a conscience who aspires, not entirely by his own will, to beat the British to conquer the mountain.
I am not typically a fan of books with Nazis. They are a lazy, paint-by-numbers villain without any redeeming qualities or depth. Summit falls prey to this trope. The villains are all capital “E” Evil and lack any kind of nuance. The main protagonist is a victim to the circumstances around him and despite summiting Everest as routinely as an oil change, he doesn’t do much except almost die a bunch of times.
The depth of the setting remains entrancing. Farthing, an adequate narrator, excels in his descriptions of the frigid mountain face, the forlorn Tibetan landscape, and the bustling touristy town of Kathmandu. His action scenes are setpieces unto themselves, and although I have serious doubts about the central premise of the book (that a German summit would cause a serious uptick in Neo-Nazi activity and bring glory to the despicable Reich), it’s a fun ride.
*The Second Step
- For more great Everest-related reads, try Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, and Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest by Wade Davis
- Sky Burial is briefly mentioned in Summit, but if you want the best description of the process, read The Abominable for a lunch-heaving exposition on the process in true gruesome Simmons style. Also great for a graphic description on what happens when a body falls down a mountain.