It is 1845, and New Yorker Peter Evans is returning home from Senegal, a passenger aboard the Dorado, an antique Dutch West India trading vessel carrying as its cargo all manner of exotic and savage beasts to be sold to the highest bidders back in the States. Among this floating menagerie is a giant black rhinoceros, its growling and the rattling of its chains audible throughout the ship.

When the Dorado is mysteriously set on fire by someone aboard and sinks, our main character survives by holding on to the corpse of the ship’s steward and riding the current to a seemingly deserted island. Evans soon realizes he is not the only survivor of the wreck, for the Dorado had, unbeknownst to him, been carrying another form of cargo, and with him on the island now is the escaped slave who set the fire. A slave who sees Evans, a white man, as his enemy.

Ah, and what is that object out in the ocean? By the light of a crackling storm, the two men see clearly a creature swimming in the water, making its way to the island. It is the rhinoceros.

KING OF FIRE is a tight, blistering adventure story in the tradition of Typee, Robinson Crusoe, and King Solomon’s Mines, the sort of book a sweaty twelve-year-old would have in his or her back pocket while climbing a rope ladder to a tree house. Or, more accurately, the sort of book that will make a grownup remember those days.