OFF THE BOOKSHELF: Matthew Reilly’s ‘Jack West Jr. Series – Seven Ancient Wonders, The Six Sacred Stones, The Five Greatest Warriors’
There is an unmistakable intrigue with all things ancient and largely unexplained; it is a skilled author who can mesh what is known about antiquity across many countries and timespans with their imagination, filling in the gaps. This type of creative history is becoming increasingly popular, what with writers such as Dan Brown and Phillippa Gregory even transforming their version of history into spin-off movies and television series (if you haven’t seen them, they currently include ‘The Da Vinci Code’, ‘Angels and Demons’, ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, television series ‘The White Queen’). There is a staggering amount of similar bodies of work and Reilly has cleverly constructed a distinct, military and archaeologically-heavy story around a more modern version of Indiana Jones – that being Jack West Jnr or as he is also known, the Huntsman (after the Australian spider).
“From the pyramids of Egypt to the swamps of Sudan, to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the boulevards of Paris: the desperate race begins for a prize without equal.” – Seven Ancient Wonders
Without spoiling the story for you, the series currently encompasses three novels ‘Seven Ancient Wonders’ (also sometimes known as ‘Seven Deadly Wonders’), ‘The Six Sacred Stones’ and ‘The Five Greatest Warriors’. Jack is depicted as a elite Australian ex-special forces officer who has instead devoted his life to the preservation and protection of ancient artefacts, stories and the solving of long-lost riddles in dead languages. His colleague and mentor – Max Epper otherwise aptly known as ‘The Wizard’ – discovers dangers to the planet that only the ancients hold solutions to and the stories are typically a race against vastly superiorly equipped foes with only wits, team spirit and courage to locate and unlock long-forgotten secrets. Literally, that is the beginning of every single one of these books, with the two sequels linked with past books so I wouldn’t recommend skipping in the series. The premise for the entire series lies interestingly in the history of a young girl named Lily whom Jack is charged with protecting due to language abilities she inherited at birth.
“And so life went on for Lily – at the farm with Jack… until that fine summer’s day when the sky above the farm filled with parachutes.” – The Six Sacred Stones.
What are these books like? Well, if you enjoy stories that cleverly combine fact with fiction into a scarily blurred line than you will love this series. It covers the old favourites such as ancient Egypt and Greece, but delves into the Hanging Gardens, Genghis Khan, Jesus Christ, Stonehenge, ancient China and other, more obscure, historical notables. There is a very strong military bent to all of Reilly’s work but compared to his other series it is lighter and much less of a focus. Indiana Jones-type traps and obstacle courses while solving riddles and symbols is much more in the spotlight with Jack West Jnr. With Reilly there is a very slim romantic subplot but the focus is on the family dynamic and friendship, with the team saving the day as a combined effort. Reilly has a simplistic, forward action-packed style that drives the book at a punishing pace and I did stop several time to take in what had just happened, as the sequences read like a Hollywood movie; they’re huge, bullet-saturated, energetic fights and races and car chases. It’s not subtle and it’s not very in depth but when a gigantic, cataclysmic fight is being conducted on the peak of a historical wonder it’s certainly effective. And enjoyable.
“He’d uncovered many ancient things in his time: the scrolls from the library of Alexandria, most of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the tomb of Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. But this was something else. This was something more.” – The Five Greatest Warriors.
So if you are a fan of the more swashbuckling, history-rich adventure novels these are for you. It does delve a little into war history but only insofar as to provide background on villains and heroes. It is the ancient times, full of riches and monuments and rituals that command the most respect in these books. Very light supernatural-mystical elements are in the story, but for the majority it is believable, if highly unlikely. Think of Indiana Jones on steroids and you have the series. I’d probably encourage those from the young adult upwards to read it, only due to the slightly gruesome nature of some parts of the book but it isn’t a total gore-fest, it just addresses some slightly disturbing methods of warfare. High stakes are involved and where there are high stakes, Reilly delivers intensity. If you’ve read and loved ‘Atlantis’ by David Gibbins or other works by Matthew Reilly or Paul Sussman’s style of writing, I’d have to say that this series incorporates elements of all of these. Bear in mind it is probably not suited to people who enjoy meandering and complex plot lines or excessive character development or a story without details about the tools of warfare.
Let me know what you think, if this was helpful and what you’d recommend in the comments. Have a look at my gaming reviews if that’s also your thing; I’d have to say if you’re a fan of the Uncharted series of games you’ll also enjoy these novels. Follow me on twitter too @sophmidget for updates or to pester me about continuing to update this blog. SophA