Author: Matthew Reilly Publisher: MacMillan Published: 2012
Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves is the fourth outing for Captain Shane Schofield, after Ice Station, Area 7, and Scarecrow (it’s the fifth if you count the novella Hell Island which was given away for free as a part of the Books Alive campaign in Australia – that’s the one where the ‘apes went apeshit!’).
This story concerns a villainous cadre of soldiers known as the Army of Thieves who take control of an old Soviet scientific installation known as Dragon Island. As well as being a research facility, Dragon Island was also a super weapon, designed to set fire to the atmosphere and destroy most of the earth (obviously it was a last strike weapon – in the event of, and after losing a nuclear war).
The Army of Thieves start pumping out a flammable gas into the atmosphere from Dragon Island and the countdown to doomsday begins. An Army Unit goes in to stop the Thieves, but they are cut down in a hail of machine gun and rocket fire. With time running out, the only team close enough, are a small research team in the Arctic, headed by Shane Schofield. He is sent in with three other Marine, two civilians, and a robot, to do what an Army unit couldn’t do – save the world!
Of course, from the outset it is one wild and woolly set piece after another, with Schofield and his team being chased, shot at, bombed, and every other possible thing – as they try to beat the deadline, and stop the earth’s atmosphere being incinerated (For another airport fiction take on the atmosphere being set alight, check out Bill Napier’s Revelation).
While I enjoyed Army of Thieves, I thought it was not up to the standard of the Jack West adventures that Reilly has written most recently (Seven Ancient Wonders, Six Sacred Stones, Five Greatest Warriors). In some areas, some prudent editing would have improved the flow of the story too. But ultimately, picking on a Reilly novel is like kicking a dog. It is just mean spirited. Reilly writes fast paced thrill fests designed to entertain – and Army of Thieves certainly does that, as long as you are prepared to suspend disbelief.
The key to Army of Thieves (and most of Reilly’s novels, for that matter) is the ‘how are they going to get out of that’ factor – and how close to death the main characters can come – and still manage to survive. Or not! In fact, and this may constitute a minor spoiler, but not really for anyone who has read a Reilly novel – the story really is about how many times the characters can be killed and come back to life. Scarecrow dies once, his loyal second-in-command Gena ‘Mother’ Newman dies twice, and a new character known as Baba dies three times (and the robot twice).
If you’re a Reilly fan, and fast paced thrills are your thing, then Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves will fit the bill nicely. If you want a little bit more meat on the bones of your action adventure stories, you may have to seek out James Rollins, or revisit some vintage Cussler.
Author: Matthew Reilly Published by: MacMillan Release Year: 2007
Matthew Reilly’s Jack West novels are not spy stories, but they cover every thrill-packed adventure cliché there is, whether your an Indiana Jones fan, a James Bond fan, a Sarge Steel fan, a Lord of the Rings fan, or a Clive Cussler fan you’re sure to find a fair amount of the type of adventure you crave in Reilly’s West novels.
As I haven’t looked at any of Reilly’s other books on this site before (I’ll have to rectify that), I’ll give you a simple overview of some of his earlier work. I first discovered (and I use the word loosely as the book was selling pretty darn well) Reilly through the book Ice Station, which featured a hero called Shane Schofield, call sign: Scarecrow. The book was possibly the most breathless thriller I had ever read, and despite an ending (that iceberg) which was a little bit silly, it was a hugely entertaining book.
Next came a slight change of pace in Temple, featuring a character called Professor William Race, which juxtaposed two stories. One in the here and now, and one in the past. Again it was a thoroughly entertaining book that crawled (or should I say leaped) away from the reader in the last few pages, almost ruining a fine adventure story.
Reilly returned with the second Scarecrow novel Area 7. In my opinion, out of the books I have read, Reilly’s worst book. The story is incredibly contrived, and while the story is still action packed and frantically paced, the book has an overall tone of gratuitous and unpleasant violence. I guess it’s a fine line between being thrilling but brutal, and crossing over into violence for violence sake.
The third Scarecrow novel was called (funnily enough) Scarecrow, and was a big improvement over Area 7, although there is one incident in the story, that enraged most fans of the series (I won’t spoil it here). Scarecrow’s run came to an end with the novella, Hell Island. At only one hundred pages in length, it is a quick throwaway. It also includes one of popular fictions most colourful lines…‘and the apes went apeshit!’
Next came the first Jack West novel, The Seven Ancient Wonders, which brought back all the magic of Ice Station. I loved it. It had all the hallmarks of the best of Reilly — cracking action, likeable characters, high-tech mayhem, unbelievable escapes; but this time he added something new — a sense of awe and wonder.
That brings us up to date (well at least as far as I have read – I’ve never read Contest or Hovercar Racer), and to the second book in the Jack West series, The Six Sacred Stones.
This story starts six months after the events in Seven Ancient Wonders. Firstly, let’s tick of the six sacred stones. They are ‘The Seeing Stone of Delphi’, ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’, ‘The Basin of Rameses II’, ‘The Killing Stone of the Maya’, ‘Stonehenge’, and the ‘Twin Tablets’ (better known as the Ten Commandments). Why are these stones important? At the end of the last novel, Jack West and his team (I’ll talk about them a little bit later) saved the world from destruction by placing the capstone on the Great Pyramid of Gizeh. A celestial doomsday, known as The Tartarus Rotation was averted. But the thing is, The Tartarus Rotation was just the beginning. How do I put this? I am guessing that most readers are familiar with the circular Yin-Yang symbol, which indicates that for every good thing, there is an equal bad thing (and every good thing has a little bit of a bad in it, and every bad thing has a little bit of good in it). Now take the Sun for instance. It’s a pretty good thing. Without the Sun there’d be no life on this planet. But applying the Yin-Yang theory, then there must be a ‘bad Sun’ out there. One that doesn’t give life, but takes life. Well that’s the central conceit of The Six Sacred Stones. There is a ‘Dark Sun’ moving towards Earth and it is going to kill us all. Luckily though, this ‘Dark Sun’ has approached Earth before in ancient times, and a ‘Machine’ was built to repel the ‘Dark Sun’. Of course, over the years, this knowledge has been lost and the clues to the whereabouts, and the instruments required to operate the machine have been lost to antiquity. As you may have guessed, the keys to the ‘Machine’ lay with the Six Sacred Stones.
Then with got our cast of characters. One thing with Reilly’s books is that even though the characters have names, they are mostly identified by their call signs, and generally the call signs give you a brief insight in the characters. The main character is Jack West; call sign ‘Huntsman’. For those of you not familiar with Australian arachnids, the Huntsman is a dirty great big spider that is found everywhere. Generally they are considered harmless, but sorry, they scare me shitless – the only good huntsman is a dead huntsman in my opinion. West is the heroic Indiana Jones type – but with a military background, and a bionic arm.
Next there is Max Epper, called sign ‘Wizard’. Just picture Gandalph, and you’ll get an idea of his character. He is a learned scientist — one of those scientists who know a lot about everything. Not only is a great linguist, archeologist, mathematician and all the rest, but he also is adept at coming up with weapons and other high-tech devices. The guy can do anything. But he’s old, and he isn’t strong.
The rest of the team is made up from soldiers from several of the world’s smaller nations. There’s Zoe Kissane from Ireland, Zahir al Anzar al Abbas (known as Pooh Bear) from the United Arab Emirates, Benjamin Cohen (Stretch) from Israel, a Kiwi known as ‘Sky Monster’, who is naturally a pilot.
Another significant character is a young girl named Lily. She is the latest in a long line of gifted Oracles from Siwa in Egypt. After the events in the first book, Jack West adopted Lily and is bringing her up as his own.
As my clumsy Yin-Yang analogy alluded to earlier, for everything good, there is something bad, and that equally applies to the characters – there’s a high ranking American soldier known as the ‘Wolf’, a Saudi spy know as ‘Vulture’, Pooh Bear’s evil brother ‘Scimitar’, and a hard ass bunch of Amercian soldiers known as ‘Switchblade’, ‘Astro’, and ‘Rapier’.
The story itself is race against time — a running battle, if you will, with members of the various factions all racing to get their hands on the Sacred Stones and acquire the power that each stone possesses and passes on to its barer.
When you claim that an author has done his homework or research, invariably there is someone out there who will take delight in proving you wrong, by listing the factual errors in the work under discussion. So when I say that Reilly has done his research, please allow me to clarify that is not to say the books are factual. Reilly simply uses his research as a ‘jump-off’ point, taking elements that are grounded in reality and then putting them through the wringer to see where the story takes them. The beauty of this however, is that for readers, such as myself, who have not done in depth research on Egyptology, Stonehenge or Confucianism, the story almost rings true. Reilly creates a world where you almost believe in what’s happening despite the fact that it is continually stretching the boundaries of reason and common sense.
Sure, if you think about the book for a while, some the inconsistencies, and far-fetched situations could bother you, but Reilly writes at such a frantic pace, there is little time for rest and reflection…it’s all full-bore straight ahead. And that’s what I like about Reilly’s books…they read like an amphetamine-fuelled, rampage through every country and historical site on the planet. They are not perfect books, but they are perfect airport fiction.
From the Blurb:
The End Of The World Is Here
Unlocking the secret of the ‘Seven Ancient Wonders’ was only the beginning.
The world is in mortal danger.
SIX FABLED STONES
For Jack West Jr and his loyal team of heroes, the challenge now is to set six legendary diamonds known as ‘the Pillars’ in place at six ancient sites around the world before the deadline for global destruction arrives. The locations of these sites, however, can only be revealed by the fabled Six Sacred Stones.
AN EPIC MISSION
With only the riddles of ancient writers to guide them, and time rapidly running out, Jack and his team must fight their way past traps, labyrinths and a host of deadly enemies – knowing that this time they can not, will not, must not fail.
As Reilly’s books are essentially a series of cliffhangers, it should not surprise you that The Six Sacred Stones ends on a cliffhanger — a huge cliffhanger. The good news is that the follow up book, The Five Greatest Warriors has already been published, so you don’t have to wait too long for a resolution (in fact, when I was reading it, I simply reached over, picked up the next book and continued with the story almost seamlessly).