Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Guest Review - The Five Greatest Warriors by Matthew Reilly


Captain West and his small team of elite misfits are on the trail of the six ancient pillars that can prevent the arrival of the 'dark star' a deadly celestial event that could bathe the globe in lethal radiation. But not only have the Ancients have hidden their secrets well, but also the huge potential to whomever locates and uses the pillars has attracted the attentions of the powerful all around the world. Jack West must now fight off crack mercenaries and special forces soldiers whilst preserving his entire team to figure out the secrets of the past...

I have loved Matthew Reilly’s books ever since I first picked up Ice Station almost a decade ago. However, two years ago almost to the day, I was sitting here cursing him. I had just finished The Six Sacred Stones, the second book in the trilogy of books featuring Jack West and I was fuming. I even rang my sister, herself a huge Reilly fan, and warned her about reading said book. Why was I so annoyed? It was because Matt Reilly had pulled a pretty sneaky trick on me (and yes, I was taking it personally!).

Let me explain. At the beginning of 2006 the author released Seven Ancient Wonders. It was a white-knuckle ride of an action-fest, something that came as no surprise to readers of his previous works. However, like many authors following the incredible success of the Da Vinci Code, this time he had thrown historical/archaeological elements into the mix, as well as creating for his protagonists a quest of astronomic proportions. Like all of his other books he also brought Seven Ancient Wonders to a satisfying conclusion – it worked well as a stand-alone novel. Fast-forward to January 2008 and we were presented with the hotly anticipated Six Sacred Stones. Same characters, same breathtaking action sequences, but a different and, if possible, even greater quest – this time to save the human race from total destruction. So far, so good.

However...... two thirds of my way in to the book and I began to frown. I had a growing anxiety. Jack West and his team must locate six ancient stones in order to save the world, yet he had only located a fraction of these. I was becoming increasingly worried that the story was going to run out of pages, with the last third of the story feeling hurried and poorly executed. It was only as I neared the final chapters that it dawned on me what was happening.... for the first time in his career Matthew Reilly had written a book that was going to end with a “To be continued” cliffhanger. Cheap trick sir!

So.... another two years has passed and finally, thanks to Jon Weir at Orion Books who sent me a copy, I have just finished reading The Five Greatest Warriors. And this time I’m smiling, not least because Matthew Reilly has had the decency to provide me with a conclusion this time. No cliffhanger. No “To be continued”. Just two long awaited words: “The End” (and I don’t think I am creating any form of spoiler by telling you this).

Anyway, rant over, is it actually any good? Well I can tell you that although I thoroughly enjoyed the ride, truth be told The Five Greatest Warriors is not Matthew Reilly’s best work (this can be found in his Scarecrow series). In places the action scenes begin to feel a little too repetitive but this is mainly due to there being so many of them. In 2009 movie critics hammered Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen for having too much action and this book is similar in this respect. After the first few forays into various Warrior Tombs and Ancient Vertices the outcomes become a little predictable and I began to lose some of the nervous anticipation I had previously been feeling as to the fate of the heroes in earlier scenes. However, having set up the premise with the previous book the author had to stick to the plot and these scenes are a necessity, so in an attempt to ramp up the tension he instead falls back on his oft used plot device of multiple cross and double-cross, completely stripping out any chance the reader has of second guessing what is going to happen next. And when you think you have it sussed – he suddenly introduces his most depraved and malignant villain so far (the way this man treats his captors will send shivers down your spine).

In other, more reproaching reviews the words you will read most often are unrealistic and implausible. To these readers I would say get the rod out of your pretentious ass and at least try to enjoy this for what it is – a pure escapist plot and a good old-fashioned adventure story in the spirit of the old Republic serials. You will see more than a few mentions of the author’s lack of respect for historical facts. To them I would say if you want historical FACT why are you reading a work of FICTION? This is not a school text book and Matt Reilly never pretends to be producing work of a historically accurate nature. Why is it that as a work of fantasy you can accept that there exists a great planet-saving machine developed by an ancient civilisation, yet you leap onto your high horse as soon as an author applies their artistic license to so-called historical fact in order to suit their story? I guess you don’t like steampunk either?!

I remember going to see Stallone’s Cliffhanger with an avid rock climber. After the film he ranted on and on about the implausibility of the scenes, yet I was grinning from ear to ear, feeling fully sated by the 100 minutes of non-stop OTT action I had just witnessed. In fact, I loved all of Stallone’s and Arnie’s action films of that era, despite their often laughable plotlines because of the macho adrenalin rush they gave me. And that’s how I feel about Matt Reilly’s books, The Five Greatest Warriors included despite its weaknesses. I enjoyed it for what it is meant to be which is a non-stop, breathless, white-knuckle ride of an action/adventure story, and nothing more. I use my own blog to promote the wealth of boy-friendly books that are out there, in the hope that it will encourage boys to read for enjoyment, and Matt Reilly’s books are perfect the boys who have grown up reading the Alex Rider books but now want something a little more adult-orientated (and more violent – boy readers just love violence in their stories). Excitingly (for me at least), in his interview at the end of the book Matthew Reilly states that there is more to come from Jack West and his team in the future. In fact, he intends to write four more books, taking us all the way down to The One something or other as well as the possibility of another Scarecrow adventure.

Matthew Reilly has his detractors, and believe me there are many. You only need to read through the multitude of 1 star reviews on Amazon to find out why some readers hate his work so much. In addition to the above, they claim: his action scenes are too formulaic (however well written they are); his characters are not realistic and lack any form of depth; his grammar, punctuation and over-use of italics and exclamation marks is infuriating; his inclusion of childishly simplistic diagrams of his settings which some readers find patronising; the list does go on and on. And if I am perfectly honest I freely acknowledge that many of their criticisms are justified. However, like Matthew Reilly himself, I really do not care. I love these books and feel no shame for this.... as far as I am concerned these literary snobs can keep their tedious, high-brow tomes. I would much rather live off a diet of Matthew Reilly – the fish and chips of the book world compared to their noveau cuisine!


A massive thank you to Mr. H from The Book Zone: Books for Boys. If you're on Twitter, follow Mr. H as @BookZone. We bonded in geek-love for all things action adventure and spend many hours chatting about favourite authors like Will Adams, David Gibbins, Paul Sussman to name but a few. I love Mr. H's website because his enthusiasm for his subject matter shows and he tries to concentrate on books for boys, even if they have female main characters. He's also a teacher and VP of his school, so I can urge you enough to drop by his blog and make pals with him.


Yunaleska said...

I appreciate the warning that this book is the 2nd in a two parter - I've read most of his other work, and loved it (especially Ice Station).

BookZone said...

Glad to be of service - I'm not sure if I have really expressed just how annoyed I was lol. Ice Station and Area 7 are still my favourites.