The unparalleled master of the high-octane, high-body-count, mile-a-minute, explosion-filled, summer-action-blockbuster-on-paper returns with — well, another high-octane, high-body-count, mile-a-minute, explosion-filled, summer-action-blockbuster-on-paper. But as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, so Matthew Reilly is well entitled to replicate his usual winning formula. While the story requires even further suspension of disbelief, and the bad guys are a little too moustache-twirling, The Three Secret Cities delivers where it ultimately counts: the action.
The fifth Jack West Jr. thrill machine goes on at a jet-fuelled pace that doesn’t let up; it’s pedal to the metal stuff from page one, and picks up where The Four Legendary Kingdoms ended. Reilly filters enough information through to bring new readers up to speed, but it’s probably worthwhile reading West’s fourth adventure before jumping on board for this one. There are a lot of characters and continuity to be mindful of in the ‘Reilly-verse’ now that his Shane ‘Scarecrow’ Schofield series has blended into West’s world. You don’t need to know it all to enjoy The Three Secret Cities, but by design, Reilly’s books don’t pause for much recapping or thoughtful character moments; fans have fallen in love with these characters over multiple books. They began life as fairly standard hero archetypes, with thinly-sketched personalities, but as the series has continued Reilly has provided more background and colour to his cast. Readers starting with The Three Secret Cities might struggle to find much to latch onto; but assuming you’re just here for the chases, and the gun battles, and the impossible escapes, you’re going to be just fine.
The plot boils down to another end of the world scenario; only this time, Jack West Jr. is responsible for its instigation following events of the previous book. Now on a desperate hunt for the Three Secret Cities to locate three ancient weapons that hold the key to ending the threat, West and his crew are the target of several enemy forces, who will stop at nothing to see them obliterated from the face of the earth. Standout set-pieces this time around include an explosive encounter at a New York skyscraper involving a hover-capable V-22 Osprey attack plane (armed with the obligatory missile pods and cannons) and an outrageous scene in London that involves a tank. Longtime readers will rejoice when a fan-favourite character makes an appearance, and some might even shed a tear for the book’s final twist; although unfathomably Reilly undercuts much of this emotional gut-punch with an epilogue that probably wasn’t necessary.
At times, The Three Secret Cities feels a bit overcrowded, but for the most part, most of the series’ major characters gets his or her moment in the sun. The book has everything Reilly’s fans have come to expect: sensational combat sequences packed with thunderous explosions, vicious hand-to-hand combat, suspense-filled feats, and more than one unhinged, evil villain. Once again, Matthew Reilly has raised the bar for the action blockbuster novel.