Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review - Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves – Matthew Reilly

Matthew Reilly is undoubtedly my guilty pleasure. Ever since I opted for purchasing “Contest” at an airport in 2005 I have loved him. Even though I recognised that the quality of writing is often derided and the character development is limited, in my opinion Matthew Reilly writes action scenes and adventure better than anyone.  In his own words all he wants to do is “entertain” his audience and he certainly does that.

However, with “Seven Ancient Wonders,” he lost me a little. The book was extremely weak in places and I worried that I have moved on from Reilly’s style. It was with a forlorn hope then that I dove back into the world of the Scarecrow.

The blurb:

Marine captain Shane Schofield, call-sign 'Scarecrow,' is back, this time thrown into battle against a large and secretive terrorist group known only as the Army of Thieves. The organization has seized control of an island in the Arctic and when the U.S. government finds out about its sinister plans to destroy the planet, the President has no choice but to enlist Scarecrow and his ragtag crew to fight against them.

Told in Reilly's characteristically gripping prose,
Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves features white-knuckle suspense and page-turning adventure, as a likeable hero battles truly evil villains. The action never stops, taking the reader on a journey of discovery, uncovering fantastic secrets about the CIA and other large governmental organizations.

The premise of these stories are never what it is important. They are usually based loosely on some scientific fact and then expanded. The plot also relies heavily on a number of coincidences. None of that matters though. The important thing is that there is a bad guy that wants to destroy the world and Michael “Scarecrow” Schofield in the only one that can stop him. 

I mentioned earlier that Reilly’s book do not often focus on character development. This book seems to be the exception. We rejoin the Scarecrow months after we last left him. In the interim he has struggled to come to terms with the events of the last book and the loss of the woman that he loved.

It is a great way to rejoin his character. Previously Michael seemed infallible. No matter how much the odds were stacked against him he always pulled through. Initially he seems to be no different and I was a little disappointed. I thought Matthew Reilly had missed a trick in exploring the vulnerable side of his beloved creation. However, Reilly cleverly inserts subtle hints that the Scarecrow is not quite up to his usual impeccable standards.

This is done through “Mother” worrying about her friend and leader. She notices little changes and is unsure just how stable he actually is. Although this is never fully explored and we very much deal with healed Scarecrow, it is nice to see that Reilly has considered the emotional trauma his protagonist has gone through. 

At the end of the day though, Schofield remains Schofield; Unflappable, fearless and inventive. Although I might yearn for a change in his personality, there is also a comfort in knowing what you are going to get.

Reilly introduces a host of new characters. The best of these are the two French Bounty Hunters “Champion” and “Baba” who look to cash in on the bounty put on Schofield’s head by the French President.  Champion has a personal vendetta against Schofield whilst also appearing his equal, whilst Baba is the male version of Mother. This automatically sparks a great dynamic between the two as they flex their muscles in an effort to impress the other.

The plot is frantic as anticipated. The nice thing about it is that although the group of heroes have a time limit to save the world in, there is a sense of helplessness and futility about the whole event. The nemesis in the story also has a great back story. Yes, he is a little cartoonish but there are a few nice twists to his character that I never saw coming.

If there is a major flaw it is that Reilly relies on pulling the group of saviours out of the jaws of defeat once too many times. Sometimes, if it looks like there is no way to survive then the character should perish. But that is just my opinion.

The ending is one long great set piece that will satisfy any readers thirst for adrenalin. Planes, trains and automobiles are all present and all crash, smash and explode in vast quantities. There is also an excellent cliff-hanger that is written just right.

All in all then I loved this entry in the series. From the first couple of chapters I found myself with a smile on my face as I read. You smile at the implausibility of what you are reading and a few times the stunts that are pulled are just plain ludicrous but I at the same time I loved every minute of it.

My rating: 8.4