Most helpful critical review
It's Scary How Badly Written This Is
on 21 February 2015
Several years ago, I read a book called "Seven Ancient Wonders" by Matthew Reilly. It left me conflicted, as whilst I thoroughly enjoyed the story itself, the writing was dreadful. Reilly used too much punctuation to try and make the reader feel a sense of excitement that better writing should have been able to achieve without them. However, the story was good enough and paced well enough that when I happened to spot another of his titles available for nothing, I didn't hesitate too long before deciding to give it a go.
In "Scarecrow", there is a council of rich men, many of whom have made their fortunes by dealing in the instruments of war; ships, fighter jets and weapons. They are planning a series of major world incidents which could throw the entire planet into turmoil and increase their balance sheets as all the major nations go to war with each other. Unfortunately for them, there are a few people in the world with the knowledge or skills to stop their plan. So a list of fifteen names have been sent to a group of bounty hunters offering nearly $19 million for each confirmed kill.
One of the names on the list is Shane Schofield, the "Scarecrow" of the title. He is unaware he is a target until he and his team of Marines are attacked whilst on a seemingly routine assignment. Fortunately, there is someone desperate to keep him alive and so Scarecrow finds himself teamed up with one of the bounty hunters, known as the Black Knight, in a race to not only stay alive, but also to gather enough information to stop the plan and prevent the world descending into the anarchy this secret council are aiming at.
Once again, Reilly has provided a story with a lot of bite to it. The idea is a good one and there are enough twists and counter measures to ensure that there is enough plot to go around. But the best part is the pacing of the novel, which starts very high and ends up getting more and more frantic as the deadline looms. Reilly writes in such a way that the words fly by and the pages turn at a speed almost as fast as the bullets come out of the machine guns many of the characters are using. This is a breathless rollercoaster ride of a book in which the unexpected nearly always happens. At several points, just when the situation looks hopeless for one of our heroes, you turn the page only to discover that there has been a miraculous escape.
This is one of my main issues with the book. Too many times, Reilly uses a deus ex machina device to allow his characters to escape. Too many apparently hopeless situations are turned around and characters come back seemingly from the dead. Bullets don't seem to stop them and even a road blocked by a huge truck and a 400 foot drop can be driven down if you have the skills to pull off a stunt even Hollywood drivers couldn't manage. These escapes are rarely obvious and all too often, the sudden escapes make it look as if Reilly has realised several chapters on that he needed a character he had previously left in peril and had to go back and figure a way out of the situation he left them in.
The other annoyance is that the writing style used in "Seven Ancient Wonders" is again prevalent here. Reilly uses almost as many ellipses, exclamation marks and italics as he does words. The ultimate effect of this is that I almost feel like I'm being patronised by the author, who is essentially directing me to find something exciting or amazing, whereas I feel that I should be allowed to judge the excitement level of the content by myself. His use of the exclamation marks wasn't quite as bad as in the other novel of his I've read, where it seemed that every other sentence ended in one, but there were far more italics used to emphasis certain points, whether they needed to be emphasised or not, which mostly they didn't.
This really is a book for those who prefer film adaptations to books, as it's very visually descriptive and things keep exploding and there is barely time to pause for breath. Indeed, this is a book that would work fairly well as a film, probably with Jason Statham in the starring role. But for every success this book may have as a film treatment, there isn't enough here to make it a decent book. It may have a thrill ride of a plot, but it's an appallingly written mess of a novel for anyone who has read anything else. Reilly does the seemingly impossible here and makes James Patterson look like a literary genius by comparison.
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