Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea | a review

When an unidentified “monster” threatens international shipping, French oceanographer Pierre Aronnax and his unflappable assistant Conseil join an expedition organized by the US Navy to hunt down and destroy the menace. After months of fruitless searching, they finally grapple with their quarry, but Aronnax, Conseil, and the brash Canadian harpooner Ned Land are thrown overboard in the attack, only to find that the “monster” is actually a futuristic submarine, the Nautilus, commanded by a shadowy, mystical, preternaturally imposing man who calls himself Captain Nemo.

Thus begins a journey of 20,000 leagues—nearly 50,000 miles—that will take Captain Nemo, his crew, and these three adventurers on a journey of discovery through undersea forests, coral graveyards, miles-deep trenches, and even the sunken ruins of Atlantis. 


This book is kind of weird. (And, if you know me, you should know that I sometimes take a liking to weird books.)

There are only four main characters in 20000 Leagues Under the Sea. The story really begins only after Aronnax, Conseil and Ned Land find themselves imprisoned abroad the Nautilus, a submarine that is led by Captain Nemo.

This book is basically an adventure story, but there’s something very nerdy about it that I love. There’s pages upon pages of descriptions of fish and seaweed most people wouldn’t care about, but this book is narrated by the scientist, after all. A scientist obsessed with marine biology. I’m quite sure if Ned Land didn’t exist the main character would be happy to live out the rest of his life on the Nautilus, exploring the seas.

That being said, Jules Verne really does have the knack of writing adventure stories. Here, they journey all around the world from the Pacific to the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, Antarctica. Heck, they even fished for pearls off the coast of Mannar.

The characters, except for Captain Nemo, fall a bit flat because they only seem to have one personality trait. For Conseil, it’s that he’s a faithful servant, willing to go anywhere with Aronnax. For Aronnax, it’s the fact that he’s got a passion for science and biology. For Ned Land, it’s that he’s hot tempered and he loves to hunt whales.

Then there’s Captain Nemo. He exiled himself to the sea because of *mysterious backstory revealed later* and runs the submarine Nautilus under the seas. He’s one of the most intriguing antagonists I’ve ever read about. He’s got a straightforward ‘fuck the colonizers’ policy and funds rebellions. He’s angry and vengeful and extremely clever and I honestly couldn’t see him as a villain because he made sense. Watching him spiral at the end of the book was both fascinating and deeply sad.

The info dumps in this book didn’t bother me much (you can skip through them and miss nothing), but there’s one uncomfortably racist chapter that reminded me that this is, after all, an adventure book written by a white man in the nineteenth century. Can’t have everything, folks.

So, do I recommend this book? Yes, but also go in expecting:

  • Zero female characters
  • Pages upon pages of fish descriptions and statistics
  • A vague steampunk/sci-fi vibe
  • Captain Nemo. Truly a fantastic character.
  • An ending that will unexpectedly make you FEEL things

My rating: ★★★★✩ (3.5 stars)


10 thoughts on “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea | a review”

  1. Great review!! I’ve been meaning to read this Classic for AGES and never got around to it — I love adventure stories and I think all the descriptions of life under the sea would be so fun to read. Bummer that only Captain Nemo was fleshed out but I guess that’s not the worst thing in the world. Glad you enjoyed this weird book

    Liked by 1 person

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