King empire

Review: ‘King’s Shadow’ is about the unlikely treasure hunter

This book cover image published by St. Martin's Press shows

This book cover image published by St. Martin’s Press shows “The King’s Shadow: Obsession, Betrayal, and the Deadly Quest for the Lost City of Alexandria” by Edmund Richardson. (Saint-Martin Press via AP)

This book cover image published by St. Martin’s Press shows “The King’s Shadow: Obsession, Betrayal, and the Deadly Quest for the Lost City of Alexandria” by Edmund Richardson. (Saint-Martin Press via AP)

“Shadow of the King” by Edmund Richardson (St. Martin’s Press)

Charles Masson isn’t a household name even to many avid history readers, but it’s easy to wonder why that is after reading “The King’s Shadow.”

Historian Edmund Richardson’s book about Masson’s search for the lost city of Alexandria beneath the mountains is less about the treasure hunt and more about the most unlikely of archaeological heroes.

A deserter from the East India Company army in the 1800s, Masson found himself in Afghanistan and sought to find the remains of the famous city that was part of the sprawling empire of Alexander the Great.

This search ends up being the backdrop for Masson’s exploits as he dodges the East India Company’s spies, feuding with the rulers and others. Along the way, Masson unearths archaeological treasures that testify to the existence of the city.

Masson’s life story can be convoluted at times, with a massive cast of characters that many writers would die for. But Richardson deftly weaves the story of Alexander’s empire with Masson’s adventures, using a novelistic approach rather than a dry academic approach that focuses on action without sacrificing key story details.

Towards the end of Richardson’s book, he notes that history is not formed by scholarship alone. On the contrary, he writes, “it is also made of stories”. With “The King’s Shadow,” Richardson brings quite a story to prove that point.