So, I finally got my hands on this one. At first glance, this is a leaner book than we’re used to from Matthew Reilly, much like Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves back in 2011. Turns out its pages are even faster, more relentless. I imagine MR was thinking ‘My heroes don’t have time to breath, hell, why should my readers?’*
And … moving on.
Nearly a decade has passed since the events of The Five Greatest Warriors, and Jack West Jr, once of the Australian SAS and latterly an Indiana Jones-type archaeologist, has retired. Followers of the series will know that this is something that would never last, and West finds himself kidnapped and forced to participate in the Hydra Games, a series of labours that suspiciously mirror those undertaken by Hercules. Sixteen champions have been chosen to participate, and to come last in any of these increasingly dangerous challenges means certain death. Worse, each champion’s support team, (or, in West’s case, his kidnapped daughter, Lily, and her friend, Alby,) will also perish. Facing the unthinkable, West must survive long enough to piece together what’s going on and save his family … and the world.
It helps not to overthink it.
One of the strengths of Matthew Reilly’s thrillers is their blend of history and legend, fact, conspiracy theory and technologies that defy logic, evoking those balls-to-the-wall action films of decades past. And yet, the staccato style, though suited to this, can come across script-like and will not be to everyone’s taste; I admit, when I first started these it grated somewhat, but relaxing into them (‘Yeah, like an MR thriller will let you relax!’) turned these into something of a pleasure. This is pure entertainment of brutal and epic proportions, nothing more and nothing less, and like a certain George R. R. Martin, MR has no qualms about parting ways with characters. Many don’t survive long enough to become fully fleshed out, which given the theme of family that runs through this series, and the questions that arise from it, can be frustrating.
Speaking of characters, and given how long this has been out now I really shouldn’t have to [SPOILER ALERT] this, but in a supporting role as a fellow champion is none other than the Scarecrow himself, with Mother Newman on his six. Like many fans of both, I too have wondered what would happen when their worlds collided. Now we know, and not without blink-and-you’ll-miss-them references to previous adventures. However, I can’t pretend I wasn’t disappointed that some characters seemed to be on holiday. Despite Sky Monster finally coming to the fore, and Pooh Bear and Stretch’s continuing bromance, the new introductions (Mae: wonderful) and return of certain others did not make up for Zoe’s absence. If you’re reading this, Mr. Reilly, please remedy this in the next one!
In short, The Four Legendary Kingdoms is a movie in a novel, and if you’ve got nothing to do an evening can fly by without even getting up to put the kettle on.
*Okay, I’ve made this up, but that doesn’t mean I can’t hope it’s true.