REVIEW: The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly

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1/5 on literary merit + 5/5 on fun = 3/5 on aggregate?

I’ve gotta be honest here, I’ve never read a book so emphatically dumb and enjoyed it so goddamn much. I finished The Four Legendary Kingdoms in maybe one two-hour long sitting–aside from the few chapters near the start with flashbacks or cutting away to Mae’s POV, this was a no-brakes adventure requiring next to no intelligence or mental engagement. And boy oh boy was it fun.

Alex Jones meets Death Race and this is the result, a conspiracy theory-powered mess of epic proportions that you can’t tear your eyes away from. It’s the ultimate guilty pleasure. The feeling is a bit like reading a bodice ripper, really–you know there are far better uses of your time and you know the book is pretty trashy, but you have such a good time reading it that you don’t care. I don’t watch the Resident Evil movies so that I can have profound reflections on life. Same with The Four Legendary Kingdoms.

The prose was pretty messy. Reilly has a strange obsession with exclamation marks and dumps a tonne of them everywhere, as if the content of the phrase isn’t enough to convey the gravity of the situation. Every other sentence reads like the following:

The man punched him in the face. He went down hard!

The water was rising. They were all going to drown!

West looked around and realised that there was no way out of this situation!

Then he finds a way out anyways, because he’s the ultimate badass hero, and when’s the last time you expected James Bond or Indiana Jones to die in their movies? It was great watching West think of increasingly outrageous and unrealistic methods of outsmarting his enemies as the book went on, but at some point, it just kills dramatic tension to know that your protagonist is going to get out with nary a scratch while legions of faceless, nameless mooks (who are literally a subhuman species here) are decaptitated, exploded, run over, or otherwise killed in hilariously gruesome ways. Well, not hilarious for them, but you know what I mean.

The best thing about this book by far is the sheer audacity it has in having fun with its carnage. A little catharsis every now and then, safely contained within the bounds of fiction. The second best thing is the many diagrams that illustrate exactly what is going on in the challenges. I would have been completely lost without them–a lot of work seems to have gone into designing the murder contraptions, the most creative I have read yet. Bravo.

I’m a little embarrassed by the extent to which I enjoyed reading this mindless violence, but hey, the good guys won in the end!

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