King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard
According to Wikipedia: Haggard wrote the novel as a result of a five-shilling wager with his brother, namely whether he could write a novel half as good as Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883).
There's a lot of good info on the Wikipedia page if you want to dig into it.
This an adventure story... truly an adventure and I know I would have loved it as a kid. But it took me until 45 to read it. :)
In a nutshell - it's about a man looking for his brother who went off looking for the long lost legendary King Solomon's Mines. The narrator is Allan Qautermain, a master hunter and has lived most of his life in Colonial South Africa. A key element to why this story just leaps off the page is Haggard spent so much time in Africa - and knew so much about its customs and ways, plants and animals, weather, etc...
Obviously, things were different in 1885 - in a British Colony and near it. And there are obvious elements that are politically incorrect now... but roll with it. This segment from Wikipedia (and mirrored in my Barnes and Noble heavily notated "classics" version) addresses this:
"Haggard portrays some African characters as barbarians, but their barbarity has more to do with their roles as antagonists in the story than with their African heritage. He also presents the other side of the coin, showing some black Africans as heroes and heroines, and showing respect for their culture. The book does contain racism, yet it expresses much less prejudice than some of the later books in this genre. Indeed, Quatermain states that he refuses to use the word "n*****" and that many Africans are more worthy of the title of "gentleman" than the Europeans who settle or adventure in the country."
Back to the story...
So the group is in search of King Solomon's Mines which is legendary and Quatermain has previously come into a possession of a very old map. Quatermain is the narrator and it's in first person telling us the story - excellently. It's easy to read ... well - except for tons of African and Victorian words which my ebook conveniently had translations and back story for. Happily the story is also annotated by Haggard so that key events referenced to in just a phrase are explained in more detail at the end. (as we all would do today - for example we might say "9/11" and pretty much everyone knows the significance of that reference without any explanation - but 130 years from now? An appendix might be helpful - as it is here).
Nicely - my ebook had convenient links and large introduction explaining customs and the general world in 1885. You can easily - easily - read this book without ever clicking on any of the links. I skipped many catching the general gist of the meaning by the conversation.
While being thrilled with the quest... the trials and tribulations... the near death experiences... I discovered bits of Africa I didn't know (again, through the eyes of a British author, but a sympathetic one).
You'll discover an amazing lost kingdom - truly grand in scale. Terrible people and heroes. A massive revolutionary war. Finding the mines (you knew they'd find them, right?) - amazing section.
Truly a wonderful adventure from start to finish and admittedly - I stayed up about 3 hours later than I usually go to bed to finish this one.