It’s becoming more than a little drag to open the covers of 7AW and read so much as a single page these days. Partly it’s because there are so many genuinely good things to read – I’ve just spent a small fortune on a set of actual classics, bound in Penguin-leather (or something) and designed by Bunbury. Or someone. To be honest I can’t remember his name and, as I don’t dare take them out of their wrappers in case some passing PETA shit-head throws pig blood over both me and them, I can’t read his name off the bookmark. Anyway, figuratively speaking they are bloody beautiful, or at least the photographs on the boxes are.

The other reason it’s a drag is, you know, just because of what it is. For example, with every page being annoying as all hell, you’re constantly on the look out for the end of the current chapter so you can at least feel like you’re tangibly closing in on the end; unfortunately every single page looks like the end of a chapter, since not a single one of them has text all the way down to the bottom. To test this theory I’ve been drawing a flip-art movie in one corner featuring a tiny despairing stickman throwing himself out of a sky-scraper and I’ve not had to skip a single floor. The detail is astonishing.

Eeeeeeyeah, where was I? West and his team think they know where the next piece of the jigsaw cliché is, so off they trot. In their jet black 747 with missile and gun turrets. They arrive on the Tunisian coast confidently expecting a not-previously rediscovered great wonder just hanging around waiting for them, but it’s not – so they have to look for an inlet near two rocky tridents emerging from the sea. Forgetting they are all inside a jet aircraft, Pooh Bear complains that it will take ages for them to search 100 miles of coastline by boat. At which prompting West, forgetting they are all in a jet aircraft, cunningly jumps out – “fortunately” while attached to a glorified hang-glider. So, presumably while the Jumbo Jet blasts past him at several times the speed, he spends a few hours scouting the cliff faces until he finds the tridents – but, mysteriously, not the inlet. Satisfied that this is close enough, they all land there.

But where is there? Or rather, where is the Lighthouse at Alexandria, since judging by the chapter heading that is their apparent objective? Well, apparently they aren’t looking for that at all, but instead are after “Hamilcar’s Refuge”, which they understand has a bit of the lighthouse in it. However that’s not to be seen either (Hamilcar was, we learned earlier, the father of Hannibal – the elephant one, not the Clarissssse one. Employing his deft touch with dialogue, Reilly had his hero utter a fresh contender for silliest line of dialogue ever: “I didn’t know he had a refuge, let alone a forgotten one“). The always ready Wizard whips out his (quiet at the back) sonic-resonance imager –

– erecting hush now the tripod on the sand. He then aimed it downward

– and that’s important to emphasise, Matt, isn’t it, because if the unseen object was above the ground, y’know, they’d all be able to see it. At first it shows what you’d expect, solid ground all the way down – but then Wizard aims it a few yards to the west and –

…actually, I need to interrupt.

Reilly named his protagonist “West”. You’d think he’d have the sense NOT to make every compass direction casually mentioned in the text be west as well. People keep looking westward, turning to face west, and so on. I’d change his fucking name. And start standing him south of people. Anyway, Wizard aims it a few yards to the west and –

Ping-ping-ping-ping-ping-ping-ping

The imager’s pinging went bananas.

West turned to Wizard, probably in revenge. “Explain?”

The old man looked at his display. It read:

TOTAL DEPTH: 8.0 m.
SUBSTANCE ANALYSIS: SILICON OVERLAY 5.5 m;
GRANITE UNDERLAY 2.5 m.

Get it? Get it?

“Oh, no way . . .” West said, understanding.

“Yes way . . .” Wizard said, also seeing it.

“Fuck no . . .” Cliff muttered, cringing at the dialogue.

The claim being made, and shortly being followed through on via a chapter-long trap-filled assault course race to the prize that rivals It’s A Knockout for sheer quality, is that an ancient Egyptian slave workforce built a granite roof over the top of a fifty metre wide ocean inlet with 130 metre deep cliff-walls, covered it with desert, bricked up the front and disguised it seamlessly with the rest of the coastline. That’s the claim.

MATHS TIME!

Judging by the reams of clip-art, the whole thing is at least 300 metres long – so this means a minimum 300 x 50 x 2.5 metres of granite (flat ceiling too, conveniently: “massive beams of granite–each the size of a California redwood–laid horizontally side-by-side across the width of the inlet”) which comes to… 37,500 cubic metres. Granite weighs, I understand, 2,691 kilograms per cubic metre, so… carry the two

ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND, NINE HUNDRED AND TWELVE METRIC TONS.

And a half.

Plus there’s that 5.5m layer of sand on top. Let’s say “dry sand” this being Tunisia; that means the granite is supporting an extra 132,165 tons as well as its own weight. Now, I’m sure that the Great Pyramid weighs more than that, but the Great Pyramid is all piled up in a big heap – not stretched like cling film over a toilet seat. Maybe I’m wrong and a passing architect can explain how granite is more than up to the task (and how these redwood-sized granite toothpicks were moved into place as well), but…

AND I’m generously overlooking the fact, in all the pictures, the inlet branches into a vast Y-shape at the back and just heads off the page, which implies that both branches also needed covering with a granite-and-sand lid until they close up naturally somewhere else – otherwise you could just walk half a mile down the way, straight past all those lovely traps, and drop in on the goodies without all the hassle.

Not to mention that a few millennia of sea-action has apparently failed to erode the sandstone cover of the 4m thick fake wall on the front, which might make it a little easier to spot. “Not Well Thought Out”, is what I’m getting at.

Sigh.

Look, as usual I’m running off at the mouth, and badly. All that covers only the first 18 pages of a chapter that totals 95. Yet, if this was the Indiana Jones movie Reilly wishes it was, it couldn’t warrant more than fifteen minutes of screen time, twenty at most. Even s t r e t c h i n g Xh i s Xt e x t Xo u t Xa s Xm u c h Xa s XR e i l l y Xa l w a y s Xd o e s , how can he manage to make so little go so far? He should advertise Fairy Liquid. So in those 95 pages, what do they do? Find the inlet, get chased in by the Evil Americans, run through a handful of traps, discover not just one but two Pieces of Capstone, lose them, then just manage to escape without getting shot to pieces by…

THE VILLAIN

…and I think the phrase is “sheesh”.

At their head stood a man of about 50, with steely back eyes and, gruesomely, no nose. It had been cut off sometime in the distant past, leaving this fellow with a grotesque misshapen stump where his nose should have been. He should check himself in for a boob job. Plastic surgery isn’t that expensive these days, and it would do wonders for his self-esteem.

Yet even with this glaring facial disfigurement, it was the man’s clothing that was his most striking feature right now. This seems rather unlikely.

He wore steel-soled boots just like West did.

He wore a canvas jacket just like West did.

He wore a belt equipped with pony bottles, pitons and X-bars, just like West did.

He came with Action Grip and Eagle-Eye features, just like West did. And if you bought them both at the same time, you got West’s Super Action Trike for free and a discount coupon for Skeletor’s Cave Mountain playhouse. COLLECT THEM ALL ! ! !

Yes, I know. I’m being very subtle with this.

The only difference was his helmet–he wore a lightweight caver’s helmet, as opposed to West’s fireman’s helmet. #Huh, let’s-go-and-stay-at-the —

A few pages on, this brilliantly brought-to-life character says “West, West, West … You always were good. Perhaps the best pupil I ever had.” I suspect that sooner or later he will suggest they kill the Emperor and rule the universe together as father and son. Then West will get his nose cut off, have it replaced with a robot one, and in the third film will save the day with a band of midget chimps, and conveniently overlook the filthy, satisfying but unwittingly incestuous off-screen sex he’s been having with his sister for years and years. Nope. They will never mention that.

Want to guess what this guy’s fucking stupid name is?

He was Colonel Marshall Judah.

Christening your offspring with a rank has always been a bad choice – but with two?

I hope you’re ready for my victorious revenge. But first, news.

Within days of the historic meeting, the team was in Kenya–living and working and training–at a remote farm-station near the Tanzanian border. On a clear day, to the south they could see the mighty cone of Kilimanjaro peeking above the horizon.

Far from the Western world.

Far from their enemies.

The farm–very deliberately–had wide flat treeless pastures stretching for two miles in every direction from the central farmhouse.

There would be no unexpected visitors to this place.

Political naïveté on Reilly’s part? Cultural ignöránce? Not sure, but if you’re wanting to avoid “unexpected visitors” you can do quite a lot better than hiding on a white-owned farm in Central Eastern Africa. Fair enough, he didn’t pick Zimbabwe, but still. Two minutes of Googling tells me that Kenyans feel more than a little sympathy towards Mugabe’s reclamation proclamation administration. Good thing they only have to hang around until 2006, when Lily finally gets her prophetic act together.

In the ten years of meantime, the entire team have – as we noted previously – agreed to hang around on this farm in order to protect, bond with and generally help raise their globally vital infant. For example, Fuzzy – and I use that gey-sign only under protest – teaches Lily to move silently; seeing Saladin pray towards Mecca prompts an awkward conversation about why “why some Islamic women wore head-covering burqas”, apparently providing breakfast-time entertainment for everyone else. Matador/Noddy/soon-to-be-headless-Ricky Martin shows her how to be a weight for him to bench press. As for West, he reveals a lavender side to his personality and takes her to the ballet.

But two of the team deserve special note: the Irish brother and sister team of Liam and Zoe, AKA’d as Gunman and Princess Zoe. Gunman is a giant wing-nuted skin head who Lily bonds especially closely with because – and Reiily says it himself – she equals his intellectual capacities before her age reaches double-figures. “He wasn’t all that smart, but he was a great commando” he tells us, along with other gem-nuggets of empathetic characterisation, such as them watching films and reading books together, their love of dual-player Splinter Cell tournaments, playing with real plastic explosives, and…

…no-one would ever forget the famous tea party held on the front lawn one summer, with, presumably, call-sign Mister Bear, Little Dog, Big Dog, Barbie, Lilly and Gunman–huge Gunman, all 6 feet of him, hunched over on a tiny plastic chair, sipping from a plastic teacup, allowing Lily to pour him another cup of imaginary tea.

Everyone in the team saw it–watching from inside the farmhouse, alerted by a whisper from Doris. The thing was, no-one ever–ever–teased Gunman about the incident. Although, calling it an “incident”, my guess is that someone discretely asked Lily if she would point to parts of Barbie at least once over those ten long years…

Notice “Doris” slipping in there? Wondering who that is? Well, conveniently she leads me towards my next point, so I’ll tell you: she is Max/Epper/Wizard’s spouse, “a much-needed grandmotherly figure on the farm”.

Seriousness for a moment: once, in my distant past, I used to work for the army.  Don’t ask me in what capacity. I’d have to… do something to you. As a result I consider myself to be quite familiar with the exploits of yer average soldiery while at ease and, not to put too fine a point on it, I think there is another “much-needed presence” when you throw a platoon together and then expect them to spend a decade on an isolated farm.

Although she wasn’t a very girly girl, Zoe taught Lily some necessary girly things–like brushing her hair, filing her nails and now to make boys do her bidding.

Mmm-hmm. I bet she could. I bet, after ten years as the only eligible bachelorette in their inviolate two-mile radius, Zoe could teach us all a few things about making boys jump how high. In fact, I think Lily missed a trick when she labelled everyone’s special friend Princess Zoe. Princess Raleigh sounds more accurate, since I’ll bet the farm she’s been ridden round it by everyone bar Gunman since week one – and the only reason he didn’t is that he’s a bloody great man-child and doesn’t reilly know what his tinkle’s for.

Anyway, a quick update on the plot: Nothing much happens that I haven’t already summed up above (using the exact same number of words but only about 1/10th the space Reilly did) apart from the arrival of one Benjamin Cohen, call-sign Leonar– no, sorry, Archer, shortly to be changed to Stretch, a Mossad sniper and yet another passing pal of West, who has been sent by his America-and-Europe opposing superiors to help out or, if refused access, shop them all to the Yanks.

How the Israelis had discovered them, they didn’t know–but then Mossad is the most ruthless and efficient intelligence service in the world. It knows everything. Apart from… er… actually, I think I’ll leave this one alone. Just in case.

West decides to let him stay, despite insisting on no communications with the outside world on pain of blowing his brains out – which sort of suggests he could just do that anyway and save three portions of food every day for their last couple of years on the farm. But he doesn’t, leaving this so-likely-it’s-unlikely betrayer in their midst and pointedly not spending much quality time with the Arabic Saladin – another example of Reilly’s gentle touch with characterisation, motivation and international relations.

Then, when she’s almost ten, Lily – who has spent the years learning at the knee of Wizard ( oh God, the anticipation is so delicious! ) proving herself a linguistic prodigy of tongue-twisting proportions – finally finds she can read the mysterious clip-art message that has been pinned to the fridge door all this time (I’m giving Reilly and my tags a clip-art break today, there were only two in the whole chapter). She quickly spits out the very instructions that lead the team to the trapundated Sudanese temple from chapter one, and three days later – well, the rest is history.

That same day the Sun (sic) rotated on its axis and the small sunspot that the Egyptians called Ra’s Prophet appeared on its surface.

In seven days, on March 20, the Tartarus Rotation would occur.

Honestly, he does make it sound as if the sun spins like a plate on a stick, doesn’t he?

The chapter ends there – but I don’t. Oh no. There’s one last thing I have to do before I go and light up this fat stoogie and blow smoke-rings at my enormous out-of-court settlement. Let’s wind the clock back five years:

Epper was a wonderful teacher.

Lily just adored him–loved his wise old face, his kind blue eyes, and the gentle yet clever way he taught.

And so she renamed him Wizard.

Can you see where I’m going? Let’s wind it back another five years (and to Reilly’s best ever paragraph…):

A gruesome yet urgent image: flanked by the encroaching lava and the steadily lowering ceiling, the two men perform a Caesarean delivery on the dead woman’s body using West’s Leatherman knife.

Thirty seconds later,

Wizard

XXX lifts a second child from the

woman’s slit-open womb.

It is a girl.

It gives me great pleasure to TAKE BACK my retraction, and award this beautiful Absolute Failure Award (Internal Logic) to Seven Ancient Wonders, by Matthew Reilly.

Ahhh.

First, a retraction: I jumped unfairly to a conclusion, that Lily had call-signed Max Epper “Wizard” in chapter one, when in truth it doesn’t say that at all. I was wrong, so it’s perfectly reasonable for him to already be called that before she was born, as clearly happened in chapter two. Maybe he gave himself his call-sign, the way everyone in the present chapter does; and so, if he’s a massive wanker, it is perfectly reasonable. I hope Reilly’s lawyers will now drop that suit, thank you very much. On to the positives.

If I had to give Matthew Reilly credit for something – if I had to, gun-against-the-forehead had to – which, in fact, is exactly the situation I find myself in, hence my bringing it up – if, as I say, I had to give Matthew Reilly some credit as an author, surprisingly enough I think I could do it. In one regard, to date, here at the end of chapter three and, looking ahead, throughout the entire book, he has honed a skill demonstrably well beyond the capacities of both Cussler and Brown – yet it is merely a basic feature of the novel.

Chapters.

You see, Reilly actually uses chapters. Brown doesn’t. He double-numbers his pages, which is not the same thing – Cussler does this too. It’s very annoying to anyone who can devote more than two minutes a day to reading. Or who is able to follow a story without taking a mental breather after turning a page. Or who might own a bookmark.

Reilly, by striking contrast, collects chains of events together into an identifiable subsection of the text, chooses to preface them with a distinctive label, then does the same thing a reasonable but not excessive number of times, finally adds a cover and calls this strange object a book. It’s weird to see a total amateur absolutely nail it when the established pros still can’t get their heads around the concept. With Brown, it’s like you asked a journeyman builder to make you a sturdy outdoor toilet and he cemented all the bricks together pointing upwards, not sideways.

Huh. Now why does that last sentence seem both redundant and familiar in its detail? Ah yes, from chapter one:

The Scar.

This was a great uneven crevice that ran all the way down the rockwall (sic) , cutting across the ledges and the rockface (sic) with indifference (stupid) . It looked like a dry riverbed, only it ran vertically not horizontally.

Now there is a paragraph two words too long (at least) – but (at least) it is a part of a proper chapter, more or less, and not something barely a page long that is treated like a chapter. Actually, don’t get me wrong: Reilly sort of manages to do that as well. It’s just he doesn’t try to convince you each occurrence is a chapter, when clearly they aren’t. In fact, he doesn’t try to convince you of anything. He just does it. ALL THE TIME.

Let me give you a for example. On page 96 (that’s in chapter three, which is entitled “A Meeting Of Nations”) after the eighth line there is a break in the text. It isn’t the first (although it is a reilly special example, which I will underline shortly) and it sure won’t be the last. I don’t think it has been done for any other reason than to add gravitas to a beat in the conversation which it interrupts – and this is, more or less, the same reason for every other instance as well, be it an action sequence, dialogue, chunk of backstory, whatever: key sentence, text break, and continue. This is the form of Reilly’s writing.

But like I say, this one is special. It goes like this – in fact, let’s have it formatted, right from the top of the page (all capital letters and Best Of albums are the author’s own):

96 xxx MATTHEW REILLY

X

also the one who, according to legend, broke the Capstone down

into its seven individual Pieces–so that no one man could ever

have it whole again. He then had those Pieces spread to the distant

corners of the world, to be buried within seven colossal monu-

ments, the seven greatest structures of his age.”

x

“Who?” Abbas said, leaning forward. Sometimes my post titles just write themselves.

x

“The only man ever to rule the entire world of his era,” Epper

said. “Alexander the Great.”

x

[ TEXT BREAK ]

x

“Seven colossal monuments?” Abbas said suspiciously. “You’re talk-

ing about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World? Alexander had

the seven Pieces of the Capstone buried within the Seven Wonders?”

What you can’t see here, and what makes this a reilly special example of the text break approach to narrative tension, is that after those first eight lines of text on page 96, there is nothing. The text resumes (with, as you can see, the very next horrifyingly leaden utterance of the exact same conversation) eight empty lines down on page 97.

That, for those lacking a visual imagination (Matthew), is one complete page-worth of paper. Wasted. Of course, it would be fair to say that the printing of text onto all the rest is hardly saving it from total wastage either. The weird thing is, this same conversation – which more or less comprises the whole chapter – is broken up any number of times before and after (three times on the spreads immediately flanking 96/97 alone) and yet never to this glaring extent. I Wonder (Shit. One misplaced capital and now I have to pay royalties to those Swedish vampires. Thanks a fuck-load, Matthew, your bad habits are rubbing off) whether length of text break is intended to correspond to duration of awestruck silence on the part of everyone listening to Max. I mean Epper. Or do I mean Wizard ? Christ, Reilly, pick a fucking name for the poor bastard and stick with it – you utter shit bird.

Ahhh. I feel like I’m really getting into my ranting stride now so I guess it’s time for the chapter summary. Basically, this “most important meeting” is one in which, judging by the rhetoric, eight of the world’s more emotionally insecure nations get together to stamp their feet and moan about how they are getting left out of the game by the big selfish rich kid and his “popular gang” rivals. They decide, to continue the metaphor, to collect one part of the ball everyone else wants for themselves and go running home to mummy. This is the conclusion of this vital meeting: if we can’t play, no-one can play.

Sadly they can’t just let the world’s fourth best soldier – Australia’s only representative at the chat – go at it solo, so all the other count-ries ( nope, that joke just doesn’t work in print ) involved have to nominate a team member to join in the fun spoiling.

The seven delegations formed into huddles, whispered amongst themselves. Since he was his own delegation, West didn’t need to discuss anything with anyone. What a rock he is. Simon and Garfunkel would cream themselves for this guy.

All the chosen ones turn out to be conveniently present, which lends matters the air of a rather foregone conclusion. That air is swiftly changed for one of spluttering ridicule (at least in my vicinity) when, one by one, this herd of gaping ring pieces step forward and introduce themselves. Like this:

“Captain Zahir al Anzar al Abbas, heavy arms, explosives, 1st Commando Squadron, at your command. Call-sign: Saladin.”

Bleeding fuck. Gobbing out his brand name at the end like that. He sounds like a Power Ranger. I can’t even bring myself to pity his tired limbs. But the next one is even better.

Then the Spaniards’ representative stood: tall, handsome and athletic, he looked like Ricky Martin, only tougher.

Ay, Macarena, hoy, wort eeeees gggggghyour corl-sayn, seeeenyor? Fuck you, you racist pig. It’s Matador. Nothing wrong with that. Except it means “killer”, which is why most bullfighters call themselves Toreros. Do some fucking research, igmo (actually, I just realised: Ricky Martin here is Noddy – who gets his head detonated right at the start. So, you know… nice one). Then they all do it. “Here’s me, I can do this. Call-sign: Road Kill.”

Call-sign: Toe Rag.”

“Call-sign: Fucktard.”

“Call-sign: Monkey Drummer.”

And do they somehow pronounce that colon, or do they just say it?

“Call-sign colon Colon.”

Yet, something more annoying than all this rampant geyness keeps tweaking my balls, and I’m only now starting to figure out what. First it says “eight nations”. Then, while West is all being an island up in everyone’s face, it refers to “the seven delegations” – but then there’s him too, for Australia, right? So that’s still eight, right? Now (bare with me here) every delegation nominates one representative except for the Irish, who get two because one of them is the team’s only chick, so that means nine representatives of those eight nations… right?

And there they stood, around the wide table, the nine chosen representative of eight small nations who were about to embark on the mission of their lives.

X

[ TEXT BREAK ]

X

They would acquire a tenth member soon – Stretch, from Israel – but he would not be a member of their choosing.

Okay, so that’s the Ten members of the heroic tea-

Hang on.

Weren’t they being referred to as the Nine back in chapter one? …yes, they were. They even listed all their gey-signs: Wizard, Huntsman, Witch Doctor (who is a Jamaican…) Archer, Bloody Mary (the chick), Saladin, Matador and Gunman.

And then most of them get re-geyed by Lily (who we also discover now was herself actually named by West), leading to Wizard (no change), Woodsman (sexually dubious, coming from a ten year old), Fuzzy (+ wuzzy = racism), Stretch (ah, who was Archer – so, the, from Israel, who’s name we’ve not got to yet, I think), Princess Zoe (lez gamer tag), Pooh Bear (paedophile), Noddy and Big Ears (paedophile tag team).

…but that’s still only eight. They became the Nine with Lily, but that’s only eight real people, plus a kid – who isn’t at this meeting anyway. Who has stepped up to the plate in chapter three? West, check, Wizard, check, Saladin, Matador, Witch Doctor, Sky Mon

SKY MONSTER! Right, the New Zealander who flies the impossible 747! Phew, thought I was going mad there for a moment. Okay, so, one more time, the final nine team members from the eight countries are:

Huntsman (Oz);

Wizard (Canada, eh);

Saladin (United Arab Emirates);

Matador (Spain);

Witch Doctor (Jamaica);

Sky Monster (clearly a dick – er, I mean Kiwi);

Bloody Mary (Irish); and

Gunman (Irish Two).

X

[ MATHS BREAK ]

X

Oh, plus tenth member Stretch Armstrong still to come, means…

X

[ VERY LONG FACT-CHECKING MATHS BREAK ]

X

…means Matthew Reilly can’t fucking count.

Jack West. Six consonants, two vowels. It’s the kind of name Clive Cussler would slap manfully on the ass, maybe before allowing his palm to rest and cup just a little too long before breaking contact – but enough of that old sailor! Jack West is a creation of Matthew Reilly, and he’s so pathetically keen to tell us all about him he blurts out all the good stuff straight away. Onto our blouse, if you like.

For example: Jack West is the fourth best soldier in the world – they had a vote, it looks like, and he almost won, so there. And he’s got a pet falcon called Horus.  He’s got two arms – and one of them is made of a robot! He’s way more interesting than any other fast-paced hero I’ve ever read about, no question. And he’s got two call signs, although that’s hardly an unique quality. The first was Huntsman and the new one is Woodsman, which is a pity, because it’s the only replacement call sign forced onto his team that is not cripplingly shameful and no-one remembers to use it after page 8. As for the person responsible for all that, allow me to introduce Lily. She’s, ah, well, er, she’s a, hum, er, she’s a ten-year old, uh, girl. Wow, barely an hour since I finished the first chapter and that’s all I can remember about her.

I’m going to have real difficulties with this book. For a start, if my use of blog tags was to fairly represent the frequency of limp-wristed characterisation and crappy images on display, the words gey and clip-art would stand eight storeys high while all the others lie squashed down to the size of your average sex phone line legal disclaimer (oh, and anyone who thinks about suggesting that the words one, hit and wonder describe my blog more accurately than they do Matthew Reilly’s career – I know it, and I got in there before you did, so kiss it).

Seriously, is this a novel or a copy of Computer Aided Design For Dummies? Aside from a handful of photographs so poorly rendered they could be depicting someone’s missing pets, the pictures look like MS Paint doodles at best. Worse still, so far as I can tell every single significant one (and there are plenty that don’t even achieve that status) appears directly before and completely reveals any potential surprises lying in wait in the text. Imagine you were going to write a scene in which your heroes enter an unknown room filled with traps; you might wish your readership to feel trepidation too; you might try to be a writer, and describe this exciting environment using words; and, if so, you might think a drawing of the room with prominent labels reading “direction of travel” and “spike-holes” could, possibly, reduce the impact a touch. Yep, not only are the pictures all really amateurish looking, they make the text of the book utterly redunde-

Hmm.

On reflection I’m feeling a bit more affectionate towards the pictures. However, to salvage what I can of my tag balance I’m going to tally up the number of clip-art spoilers and not bother mentioning the subject ever again (in your dreams)… talk amongst yourselves… well, yourself

Fifty.

That’s not including the repeating chapter icon, or the little bondage hieroglyph that pops up every now and then, so it could be over sixty easily. Some of the others are repeats too, occasionally with minor changes, but really – reilly – is this necessary? The thing’s practically a comic strip.

Many of these pictures take up entire pages. I think there’s a reason for this. I think it’s

the same reason why the entire text of the novel is about this fucking big on the page.

The same reason why, for maximum impact, some words get a whole line practically to themselves.

Themselves.

For impact.

With Italics.

Yeah, there’s quite a lot of italics too, but that’s another issue which I promise I’ll get to. As well as the massive, creatively formatted text and frequent pictorial interruptions, there is also the dazzling expanse of empty paper leading into every new subsection and, even more emptily, often ending them too. Time for some vital mathematics: the “story” part of this hardback novel incorporates 462 pages, and by an incredible coincidence I’ve just calculated that only 46.2% of them have any writing on.

Yes. Now it becomes clear. The novel Seven Ancient Wonders is in fact only comprised of Seven Actual Paragraphs, drawn out to extraordinary lengths in a cunning and, apparently, successful attempt to fool a publishing house that they’re actually holding more than the synopsis for a novel which Reilly has no intention of really writing.

Reilly writing.

Sorry, got distracted there for a second. Anyway, having finished chapter one, I can safely reveal a few things. It details the fast-paced assault on an ancient Egyptian tomb-like structure in the Sudan containing a lost body part of an ancient wonder, upon which resides one of seven golden parts of another ancient wonder, the collection of said parts being desired by West’s team, referred to as the Nine (until someone gets left behind, at which point they become the Eight for a bit), but also two evil groups: first, a shoot-first, blow-things-up-laughing-later evil American military force; and second, a pan-European evil military force, lead by an evil Jesuit priest named after an Italian footballer and his diminutive protégé, a seemingly evil ten-year old boy who is “exactly Lily’s age”, as Reilly and West tell us, preferring to just pour transparent piss over a potential plot point on its first appearance rather than letting us… wonder.

None of this matters, though. The heroes break in, get the treasure and a clue, escape from under the Evil Europeans’ noses, then are captured by the Evil Americans and have to surrender the treasure to them – quite like what happens in the first bit of Raiders of the Lost Arc, actually. Clearly this is a family adventure more or less suitable for all the family, with just a tiny bit of inappropriate family swearing and one of the family of heroes having his head blown apart by snipers… oh.

Funny that, because the reading level is probably suitable for my nephew and he hasn’t even been conceived yet. Not just the reading level either, because in order for the team to escape the evil clutches of one of West’s arch-nememises (the story has hardly started and he’s already got at least three, don’t be surprised if there’s an arch-Rameses before too long) their getaway Boeing 747 with mounted machine-gun turrets pulls an amazingly infantile-reality-satisfying rescue and spirits them all away just in the nick of time.

Now they are all safe, and can plan their next move. Lily has a jolly good cry over the untimely head-exploding of Noddy (whoever he reilly was) while West gets his head down for some kip – and dreams of lava… and booby-traps… and stone altars…

…in the present indicative…

Fucking clip-art Jesus pantihose. I thought this nightmare was in my past, but no. I’m not going to lie to you: this thing is clearly going to be total shit from start to finish – but it is a different quality of shit and that’s what will make reading it a little special.

Let’s get scientific about this.

First, you’ve got your Dan Brown Shit. It’s slick, efficient, you don’t have to strain at all and it passes so smoothly that you only have to wipe as a matter of routine, knowing even as you do that one sheet of paper will be enough to put your mind at ease. Many people apparently found The Da Vinci Code “incredibly satisfying”, words which, it should always be remembered, consistently represent the reported enjoyment of taking a big dump – in this case a hip-shatteringly massive one, but nothing more.

Then, by contrast, there’s your Clive Cussler Shit. Which is nutty.

Now, however, we have Matthew Reilly Shit – and this is the fun shit, you get me, this is the crazy amatuer shit, you know, this is the spread-it-on-the-walls, pick-it-up-and-throw-it-through-the-bars type shit. It’s shit, but it’s fun!

Fun, that is, for the monkey throwing it. For the monkey reading it, in this case me, the fun stopped somewhere around, oh, page 8, when I discovered what the call signs of the heroes were.

Actually, call signs generally are a bit, y’know, gay these days, aren’t they? I mean, on the one hand you have gamer-tags and internet nicknames and that’s all fine, and on the other hand you have… Top Gun. And Gladiators. Lots of gleaming six-packs, and nipple-pecs, and people calling themselves Ice Man and Maverick and… er… Lightning and Filly, or whatever.

So here we have a heroic combat team who, without blushing, DON’T run into battle calling themselves Huntsman, Witch Doctor, Archer, Bloody Mary, Saladin, Matador and Gunman – because that would be gay.

No. They VOLUNTARILY call themselves Woodsman, Fuzzy, Stretch, Princess Zoe, Pooh Bear, Noddy and Big Ears. During life-and-death struggles they do this. Because their ten-year old girl team-member says these are their new call signs.

This is all so amazingly faggotty that it goes beyond conventional sexualised insults and enters brave new territories of gayness desirous of their own label, and it has fallen upon me to chose one:

This, is gey.

And before you make any assumptions about Princess Zoe – no, that’s not the girl. She doesn’t give herself a call sign. She gives one to the other civilian, an old man with a long beard (Wizard, as if you couldn’t guess), but she doesn’t give a call sign to herself – so even if she wasn’t tagging along with an elite combat team running through a Sudanese swamp, she’d still be the least convincing ten-year old in literary history.

So, not fun anymore by only page 8. But on page 9, whoo, at least it gets funny

The chief resident of the swamp was Crocodylus niloticus, the notorious Nile crocodile. Reaching sizes of up to 6 metres, the Nile crocodile is known for its great size, its brazen cunning, and its ferocity of attack.

Are you ready?

It is the most man-eating crocodilian in the world

Aaaaaaah, pissed myself.