A(nother) Review: The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

 

What even is a guilty pleasure? If we enjoy something… why should we feel guilty about it?

 

It was the phrase guilty pleasure that came to me when I started reading The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly.

 

It is the fourth in a series of books that started with Seven Ancient Wonders back in 2005. They follow the adventures of Captain Jack West who dashes around the world solving riddles and uncovering the earth’s greatest secrets.

 

It was followed by The Six Sacred Stones in 2007 and The Five Greatest Warriors in 2009. Seven years later, and we’re finally halfway through the series.

 

They are thrillers in every sense of the word, they follow the traditional short chapters and lack of exposition and description. But Four Legendary Kingdoms deals with all that by only giving is what is necessary for the plot.

 

The plot is king. There is little time for feeling or for the characters to naval gaze. They are the complete opposite to the books I normally enjoy which focus more on character than plot, which I guess is why I describe them as a guilty pleasure.

 

But despite them being everything I normally don’t enjoy… I love these books. They are actually incredibly creative, taking myths and legends and historical facts that already exist and building a what-if world around them.

 

It takes a lot of skill to do that, and while they might be easy reads, they can’t be easy to write.

 

It’s hard to tell you what The Four Legendary Kingdoms is actually about without revealing too much, but West wakes to find himself, kidnapped, cut off of from his friends, in a cell, facing a minotaur. He escapes only to find himself in an arena with fifteen other men, all of them competing in deadly challenges.

 

The series of books are best described as Dan Brown-esque. I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code along with the rest of the world, but I found I enjoyed Matthew Reilly’s work more.

 

I called The Four Legendary Kingdoms a guilty pleasure but now I feel guilty for saying that. They are wonderful books that I thoroughly enjoy. They are fun romps that make you completely engage with all the characters, even with the limited exploration of their inner selves.

 

I can’t wait for the next book, but with eight years between the last two, I might have to wait a while.

 

At this rate, GRR Martin will have finished his Song of Ice and Fire series before we get to the last in the Jack West series (presumably entitled …And A Partridge in a Pear Tree).

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Every now and then a book comes along that sells and sells and sells. The likes of Grey and Go Set A Watchman come along occasionally and sell – to use a technical term – shitloads in a short space of time.

But some books sell and they consistently sell well and they top the charts week after week.

The Da Vinci Code, The Hunger Games, Gone Girl, Fault in Our Stars, all of these are amongst the bestsellers with some of them still going even now, years after their publication.

After the phenomenon that was Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, the sequel The Lost Symbol was released to great fanfare in 2009 and spent a record breaking nineteen weeks in the number one slot in the Fiction Hardback chart.

To put that into context, there are SO many books published each week, that the average title stays in the charts for around six to seven weeks.

The Lost Symbol spending that long at the top of the chart is the book-world equivalent of a man living to be 250 years old.

Earlier this month, that record was broken by the book that even the most casual of readers will have noticed hanging around in bookshops – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

Since Before I Go To Sleep and Gone Girl first hit the heights of popularity, a new genre has emerged in fiction – domestic noir. Basically tense thrillers involving a married couple – The Girl on the Train is just the latest in a long line of hit titles in the genre – but it may well be the peak.

I finally got round to reading GotT this week and… I struggled. There is nothing wrong with it. There’s a nice twist – literally – at the end, there are some very tense moments, and it’s well written.

But parts of it are predictable – in fact, that’s the nature of domestic noir novels – not always that the husband did it, but they feature a small cast of characters, and so it is often easy to spot the bad guy (or girl).

Where these books succeed is in the character’s motives and the ‘how do they get through this’ factor.

The Girl on the Train is just not worth the hype. There is no discernible reason why it has had the success it has had, when others that are equally good or even better have not fared as well.

It’s a good read, it’s a quick read, but it’s distinctly average. Perhaps as a gateway drug to the genre, it’s a good book, or even for those desperate to read more of this type of title, but I suspect we are now at the point with any resurgent genre where we will see a huge cascade of copy-cat titles.

Besides, she’s not even on the train that much.