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Little Sense of Wonder
on 23 January 2015
Whenever something new comes along and is immediately hugely popular, a rash of imitations floods the market soon afterwards. It’s natural that after the huge sales it created that Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” should be one such thing and the idea of setting a thriller novel around a historical background of some kind is taking hold. Despite my reluctance to read the book that started it, on the basis that everyone seems to think I should, the basic idea is one that appeals to me and so I read and was let down by “The Rule of Four” and then stumbled across “Seven Ancient Wonders”.
The Great Pyramid at Giza was once topped by a golden capstone, which could be used for either great good or great evil, but only when the Tartarus sun spot is facing the earth, which happens once every few thousand years. That’s due to happen in the next seven days and so some people are very keen to find this capstone so that they can use it.
Unfortunately for them, the capstone was made in seven pieces and hidden away either with or in the Seven Wonders of the World. This wouldn’t be an issue, except that most of the seven wonders have either been broken up or hidden by the ancient Egyptians or even, such as in the case of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, had never been found at all. Clues have been left to enable the capstone pieces to be found, if they can all be cracked in time. But even finding the pieces isn’t the end of it, as all the locations are heavily guarded with potentially lethal traps which have been waiting thousands of years for the unwary.
This would be tough enough for Jack West and his team of crack troops representing a group of nations as it is. Add in the additional pressure of the time frame, plus the fact that there are also far better equipped teams from both Europe’s Roman Catholic Church and the American Armed Forces also seeking the pieces and will stop at nothing to get them and it’s next to impossible.
“Seven Ancient Wonders” rattles along at a cracking pace. The clues lead the team around the world and as time is short, they have to move pretty quickly. The story and the writing moves at the same pace and it can almost leave your breathless at times. When the pieces are found, they are frequently so heavily guarded that there is little time for the team to breathe between traps and, with one of the following teams frequently in hot pursuit at all times, the pace of the story matches the urgency required.
Unlike “The Rule of Four”, which felt like it was trying to be smarter than the authors could manage to make it; Reilly makes no pretence that this is anything other than a straight thriller. Indeed, the whole book feels very much like an Indiana Jones film, with the same kind of clues as towards the end of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. It’s gripping and exciting and you never know exactly what is going to happen or where they will end up next.
It’s very useful that the story itself is so gripping, as the book is actually quite badly written. Reilly clearly has far better ideas than his talents as a writer will take him, so what you get is a great adventure story, but with some writing so clumsy it can be a distraction at points. Reilly is lucky in that the story is good enough that these don’t stop you reading and that he does just about make you care enough about some of the characters to want to see how they make out.
Reilly’s writing style is very breathless and punctuated with far too many exclamation marks. It’s almost as if Reilly doesn’t quite have the confidence that he’s made his point in prose and is adding these in as if to say “Hey, wasn’t that bit really exciting?” Generally speaking, it was really exciting, but I would have preferred to have decided that for myself, rather than have the excitement shoved in my face with some violent punctuation. In many ways, Reilly’s use of these exclamation marks is much like the behaviour of some of the teams within the story; doing what they like, when they like, with no respect for the feelings of others.
For a story with some supposedly difficult clues for the characters to crack, this is actually a bit of a no brainer. Much like the Indiana Jones film, there is no requirement for the reader to try and think about what’s going to happen next, just cling on and go for the ride. The enjoyment you will get from this book is very much based on the enjoyment you would normally get from this kind of thing. If you’re looking for an intelligent thriller and wouldn’t normally read this sort of book, then you’re looking in the wrong place. There are some fiendish clues and traps for the characters here, but none for the reader.
If you’re a fan of fast paced action thrillers, though, or of the Indiana Jones films, this is definitely the book for you. You’re less likely to be surprised or disappointed by the terrible writing in parts and will be able to relax and enjoy the story in peace. Indeed, as far as thrillers go, this is a great example of the art; it’s fast paced, it doesn’t let up for a minute and it keeps you on the edge of the seat until the very end.
Despite wincing at several points at the sheer clumsiness of the writing itself, I found myself enjoying “Seven Ancient Wonders” purely for the story. I loved the Indiana Jones films (well, apart from the last one) and I do quite like a good thriller novel every now and again, believing that reading can be for entertainment and not just to stretch the mind. “Seven Ancient Wonders” is no different to any book of this type in that you can really only read it the once; once you know what happens and how the clues and traps work, there’s no point in reading it again.
If you’re looking for a fun read, this is right where you should be looking. If you’re hoping for an intelligent read, you’re in the wrong place. I did enjoy the story very much, but it’s very difficult to read at some points as the writing isn’t terribly good. Whilst I don’t regret the time I spent reading it, I’m not in the slightest bit tempted to read any of Matthew Reilly’s other works and he’d have to come up with an idea at least as intriguing as the one behind “Seven Ancient Wonders” to encourage me to read his works again.
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