Friday, 17 February 2012

Review: Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves by Matthew Reilly

At an abandoned Soviet base in the Arctic, the battle to save the world has begun...


It is a top-secret base known only as Dragon Island. A long-forgotten relic of the Cold War, it houses a weapon of terrible destructive force, a weapon that has just been re-activated...


When Dragon Island is seized by a brutal terrorist force calling itself the Army of Thieves, the fate of the world hangs in the balance, and there are no crack units close enough to get there in time to stop the Army setting off the weapon.


Except, that is, for a small equipment-testing team up in the Arctic led by a Marine captain named Schofield, call-sign SCARECROW. It's not a strike force; just a handful of Marines and civilians. It's not equipped to attack a fortified island held by a vicious army. But Scarecrow will lead the team in anyway, because someone has to.


Matthew Reilly books are like Marmite - you either love them or hate them. Those who hate them (and you seem to be in the minority) prefer their literature to be everything that Matt Reilly's books aren't - dull, boring, realistic, yawn-inducing, pretentious... I could go on. Those who love Matt Reilly's books seek escape their their humdrum lives. They want to read about impossible car chases, multiple death-defying escapades, enough gunfights to keep a munitions factory in business for decades, and page after page of non-stop, hi-octane, explosive entertainment. Matthew Reilly's books are the written equivalent of a Michael Bay film, but infinitely better. 

And I love them!

To say they are my guilty pleasure would be inaccurate, as I have never felt guilty about reading one of his books. In fact, I like them so much that I have read some of them multiple times, and my favourites have always been those featuring his seemingly indestructible protagonist, Shane 'Scarecrow' Schofield. It has been eight or nine long years since Matthew Reilly published a book featuring this character, and he has been sorely missed by me and legions of fans around the world. Yes, I enjoyed his Jack West trilogy a lot (see my review of The Five Greatest Warriors here), but they weren't Scarecrow books, and for me this meant they had a little something missing. I think I literally leapt with joy then when I heard that there was another Shane Schofield book scheduled, and leapt even higher when a copy came through my door, sent by the lovely people at Orion. They also very cleverly timed it to arrive at the beginning of half term, so I put aside a day especially for it, and was able to revel in the rare luxury of reading a book by one of my favourite authors in a single sitting.

The book begins with a series of daring escapes and heists by a previously unknown group, calling themselves the Army of Thieves. Very soon the world is being held to ransom by a group which has taken control of a secret Russian weapons facility in the Arctic, supposedly shut down following the end of the Cold war, but now very much up and running. This group claims that it has the means to set the atmosphere alight, with a fire that will destroy most of the world as we know it. Initial attempts by the Russian government to eliminate this threat meet with disaster, and it would appear that nothing or nobody is going to be able to prevent them.

Did I say nothing or nobody? Hmmmm. What if a certain marine just happened to be in the area? But no, surely that would be too much of a coincidence? Hell it is - this is a Matthew Reilly book!!!

Schofield has made a lot of enemies over the course of his adventures, and the French especially have put quite a hefty price on his head. His superiors feel that out of sight, out of mind is the best policy at the moment, and so he is relegated to help out on a mission to test the latest in weapons technology in the harsh Arctic environment. As ever, he is joined by the ever faithful Mother, who would rather take part in a pretty demeaning task with Shane Schofield, than any other kind of mission without him. And so we have:
  • bad guys in the Arctic - check
  • seemingly impossible situation where the fate of the world is in danger - check
  • Shane Schofield in the Arctic - check
  • Mother in the Arctic - check
  • cue mayhem!
Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves is Matthew Reilly at his very best. By now, if you have read any of his books you will know exactly what kind of things to expect and all are present and correct: bloody nasty villains; twists, turns and treachery aplenty; jaw-dropping WTF scenes that any other author would not get away with writing; really nasty torture scenes (Mr R has never shied away from inflicting pain on his main characters); and the best action scenes around (nobody writes action like Reilly). And the fact that in the last Schofield book, Scarecrow, Matt Reilly killed off one of his very popular main characters, you are now constantly fearing for the safety of everyone on the mission as there is no longer any guarantee that all with survive until the final page.

If you love the likes of James Rollins, Scott Mariani and Andy McDermott and you have somehow not yet discovered Matthew Reilly then I cannot recommend his books highly enough. For maximum reading pleasure I would advise you to read the books in order (Ice Station, Area 7, Scarecrow, Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves). If you like action and adventure then I promise you that you won't regret it.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Review: Temple Of The Gods by Andy McDermott (Nina Wilde/Eddie Chase Book 8)

Archaeologist Nina Wilde's life has fallen apart. Her husband, ex-SAS soldier Eddie Chase is on the run, falsely accused of murder, and her only distraction has been investigating the origin of three strange statues stolen from her just before Eddie's disappearance. When Nina discovers they may be relics from the lost civilisation of Atlantis, it's clear that she has to get her head back in the game, and fast.

Eddie, meanwhile, tries to stay ahead of the authorities as he hunts the man responsible for his fugitive status across the globe. A mysterious benefactor offers the information he needs - but the price will put him in direct conflict with his wife.

When Nina learns that a Japanese industrialist has obtained the statues on the black market she immediately heads to Tokyo meet him, unaware that Eddie is already on his way. Their arrival unleashes a chain of events that could have devastating consequences for the world, setting Nina and Eddie on their most dangerous quest ever - with the future of humanity itself at stake...

Back in June 2011 I reviewed Andy McDermott's Empire of Gold, the seventh book in his explosive series featuring main characters Nina Wilde and Eddie Chase. I am a huge fan of what a friend and I have christened 'quest books', and this is one of my favourite series from this genre. Incredibly, the first book in this series, The Hunt for Atlantis, was only released back in 2008, so by my reckoning that is averaging at two books a year. From a lesser author, we might expect inconsistent quality, repetitive plots, characters that become boring over time. However, Andy's books suffer from none of these issues. In my opinion, every one of his books is an excellent, thrilling read, and now with the publication of book eight I can only hope there there is still more to come.

In my review of Empire of Gold I recommended that the books be read in order. This is not essential for most of the books, although for maximum reading enjoyment I still stand by that statement. However, Temple of the Gods really should not be read as a standalone, as it is a direct continuation of Empire of Gold. I remember well the frustration I felt on finishing that book and being left with a massive cliffhanger, something that the author had not done in his previous books. I have therefore been waiting impatiently since June to find out what happened next, with Eddie on the run accused of murder, Nina pretty much believing that he was guilty, and enemies closing on from all directions. I am happy to report that it was well worth waiting for.

Temple of Gods is Andy McDermott at his very best, and if like me you are a fan of the series, but are yet to read this book, then I fully expect you to be now salivating at the prospect of diving into the story. It has everything that we have come to love in Widle/Chase story: exotic locations; ancient history; epic, OTT action scenes; crosses, double crosses and triple crosses; and more twists and turns than an Alpine road. It is the culmination of a story that started way back when Nina Wilde discovered Atlantic in the first book, each book that followed adding another few morsels of detail regarding Nina's link to the ancient Atlanteans, and the mysterious purple stone statues that the pair have come across in their various archaeological adventures.

One criticism my 'quest book' loving friend has about this series is that she gets a little fed up with all the bickering that goes on between Nina and Eddie. I too occasionally found myself in previous instalments wanting to shout at them to stop arguing and just get on with things. If you share this view then you may be glad to hear that the shocking events at the end of the last book, and Eddie's subsequent flight from the authorities, seems to have brought the pair together in a way that none of their previous escapades managed. So much so that the pair have very few arguments this time round. Happy days! (well they would be, if it weren't for the fact that just about everyone they come across is trying to kill them).

With all the loose plot threads from the previous books now all neatly tied off I am left with a worrying feeling that this might be the final Nina Wilde and Eddie Chase. I'm hoping that there is a loose end that I have forgotten about, giving Andy McDermott a reason to write at least one more book (and hopefully many more) featuring his endearing pair of characters. If anybody knows that answer to this and can put me out of my misery please get in touch.

My thanks go to the ever lovely Sam at Headline for sending me a copy of Temple of the Gods to review.

Welcome To The Book Zone's Big Brother

Welcome to the 'grown-up' companion to The Book Zone (For Boys). If you have been to The Book Zone before coming here then you may already know that its primary focus is boy-friendly books for children and young adults.

Of course, my reading diet is not solely made up of books written for teens and kids, and since I established The Book Zone back in 2009 I have reviewed a number of adult books that I felt were suitable for older teens. My concern has always been that these adult books do not really 'fit' with the other books I review over there and so I have decided that it is time to give the adult book reviews a home of their own. And so The Book Zone's Big Brother is born.