Before I go any further, a caveat: unless your library consists of throwaway novellas that come free with the kind of magazines that boast titles punctuated by an exclamation mark, Matthew Reilly isn’t the most sophisticated author you’ll ever read. I don’t say this to sound snobbish, but I’m not going to gloss over it either. By all accounts he’s a lovely chap, an enthusiastic Australian who lives for writing adventure fiction, and he’s one of a select few authors whose novels I always look forward to when they roll around in chunky paperback, so take from that what you will. He also sells by the barrowload, so I’m not the only one who thinks that. Just don’t settle down with one of these doorsteps expecting high literature.
Reilly writes the kind of stories that the more imaginative of ten-year-old boys tend to play out in their heads (often accompanied by Star Wars figures). In his first novel, Ice Station, special forces units from various countries all converge on Antarctica where an alien spacecraft is reportedly buried. In Contest, a bunch of characters – including aliens – are locked up in New York’s State Library and instructed to hunt one another down. In Temple, various groups compete to discover an ancient and powerful treasure hidden in a ruined temple in the Andes. In all instances there are guns, planes, hovercrafts, more guns, soldiers, yet more guns, and explosions. Lots of explosions. Think films like Die Hard, Predator and Indiana Jones and the rest of that ilk and you’re on the right track (most likely dangling upside-down from a truck loaded with gunpowder careering along a narrow mountain path headed for certain bloody death).
The thing is, very few writers actually produce pulp adventure like this these days, especially in mainstream format. In truth, not many writers would dare. That’s why I love Reilly. He writes at 100mph, with some major widescreen set-piece or scene of bombastic carnage quite literally on every other page, and it’s impossible not to get swept up in the sheer excitement of it all. I’ve read other authors of the global action/adventure genre – Clive Cussler, Wilbur Smith, Tom Clancy, and many more – and all of them are guilty of trying too hard to somehow be ’acceptable’. They’re missing the point. Matthew Reilly allows you to be ten years old, playing with action figures and pulling your jaw into strange contortions whilst bellowing load explosive noises, without ever feeling guilty or embarrassed. All power to him for that.
Seven Ancient Wonders is a novel that postulates the theory that the golden Capstone from the apex of the Great Pyramid was split into seven segments back in pre-BC Egypt, and that each segment was hidden in one of the Seven ancient Wonders of the World. The Capstone is an object of great power that could prevent an imminent catastrophe (the sun is about to release a solar flare of such magnitude that the Earth will broil - damn you, Bush Jr, and your carbon emissions!) or could be used to grant any nation 100 years of absolute majesty. Needless to say, both the US and the archetypal bad guys of Europe (UK, Germany, France, Italy) want the Capstone. However, because the Seven Wonders no longer exist in their original state certain ancient scrolls must be transcribed to discover where each individual segment is now hidden. A band of soldiers from the ‘lesser’ nations (Australia, Ireland, Israel, etc) decide to collect the segments themselves so they can stop the big bully nations from ruling the planet. Unfortunately, each hiding place is protected by swathes of perilous death traps, and the solar flare is getting closer…
If you love Raiders Of The Lost Ark – or any derivates, such as The Mummy films or the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider films or games – you’d probably enjoy this a great deal. It’s frenetic, it’s fun, and it’s utterly ludicrous. The only thing more ingenious than the traps the characters face is the way they escape from them, with the highlight of the narrative being a race against time through a wonderfully realised Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
This won’t be the best book you read this year. Hell, it probably won’t be the best book you read this week. But if you fancy trying something different, switching off your brain and diving into some page-turning popcorn adventure fiction, then you could do much worse than give this a try.