It’s the spring of 1924, and English playboy Lord Percival Bromley has disappeared in the Himalayas. The climbing world assumes he’s perished in an avalanche. Lady Bromley, his mother, believing otherwise, summons three mountaineers to her estate. “If my Percy is alive,” she says, “I want you to bring him home to me.” So begins prolific sci-fi master Dan Simmons’s brick-thick adventure thriller The Abominable (Little, Brown, $28). Bromley’s an invented character, as are the three sent after him: decorated World War I veteran Richard Deacon, crafty Chamonix guide Jean-Claude Clairoux, and young Harvard grad Jake Perry. Soon enough the trio is battling Nazis disguised as yetis, but the surprise here is how well Simmons knows his climbing history. The team’s gear is supplied by George Finch, the inventor of the down jacket and oxygen kit. And Deacon’s Great War scars (body and soul) were all too common. The Abominable keeps the action roaring through the team’s grueling ascent and Nazi showdown while paying out enough crampon-and-ax accuracy to keep skeptical climbing geeks satisfied.
After two bestselling memoirs (Eat, Pray, Love and Committed), Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a sweeping tale of fortune, adventure, and the quinine trade. The Signature of All Things (Viking, $29) follows 19th-century scientist Alma Whittaker, whose extraordinary life unspools like a Jane Austen novel as she struggles to be taken seriously as a botanist and find a partner worthy of her love. Gilbert’s blockbuster memoir success has overshadowed her mastery of fiction (Stern Men). But here she claims her rightful spot as one of the 21st century’s best American writers.