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Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves by Matthew Reilly
This is the latest Shane Scofield aka Scarecrow novel released in October 2011, so pretty much hot off the presses. It is the fourth novel in the Shane Scofield (Scarecrow) series. The last novel being 'Scarecrow', which was published back in 2003.
The author did publish a short novella a few years after the novel, 'Scarecrow' called 'Hell Island', but Matthew Reilly considers that to be a side adventure for Scarecrow, and it was never published outside of Australia.
Shane Scofield aka Scarecrow is a US Marine captain. He is known as the Scarecrow as he has two vertical scars running down his eyes which he conceals by wearing some cool wrap-around sunglasses. He always ends up getting into trouble and ends up killing lots of bad guys in different and inventive ways.
He is still traumatised after the death of his girlfriend at the end of the last novel. He has been sent to the Arctic Circle, as his superiors think he may be unstable.
In addition, he is trying to hide from his old enemy, the Republic of France. He destroyed one of their submarines and an aircraft carrier in earlier novels. They have put a contract out on him.
This novel is primarily based at a Remote island in the Arctic Circle right at the top of the world, known as Dragon Island. It is where an old Soviet weapons base is located. The Soviets used to develop and test out new and exotic weapons here.
A terrorist group calling themselves 'The Army of Thieves' take over the base. They plan to detonate an atmospheric weapon based there, that has the ability to destroy most of the Northern Hemisphere.
Scarecrow is nearby, as part of a small equipment testing team, helping to test out new equipment for the Marines under cold conditions. He has to go in along with a group of civilians to take back the base and make sure the weapon is not used . . .
There's an interview right at the end of the book with the author who tells us about how and why he wrote the story. He says this is the most violent Scarecrow novel yet. I have to say some of the scenes are gruesome, but I didn't find them too gross, as I couldn't take any of it too seriously and I didn't think they were described too graphically. I felt this novel lacked the pace and action usually found in his earlier novels. He spends too much time on Scarecrow and his state of mind, as he is still trying to get over the death of his girlfriend, which occurred in the last novel. I can remember one action sequence in this which was pretty cool, but there aren't really any other complicated long action sequences that I can remember. Most of the novel is spent with character development in dispersed with small, unremarkable fight sequences.
You get to find out what has been happening to Scarecrow since the previous novel, and also some info about his personal life such as about his father and grandfather. You also learn a bit about Mother's personal life. She is a female friend of Scarecrow's who has accompanied him on all his adventures thus far. She is a tall, bold headed and loud mouthed Marine.
Scarecrow has a new experimental weapon to play with in this which is Berty, a fighting robot. He reminded me a bit of the Terminator. He can work independently to complete basic tasks. I would say this is sort of science fiction at the moment but, parts of the technology are being used by the US army now. I found the way the robot acted unbelievable though. His artificial intelligence seemed a bit too sophisticated. In one part of the novel, it says something like 'Berty looked on in what could be considered robotic dismay'. It doesn't make any real sense as he doesn't have any emotions like happiness etc.
I would have thought considering that Scarecrow was part of an experimental equipment testing team that he would be able to have lots of new hi-tech guns, armour and bombs to play with, but apart from Berty the robot, there are no other weapons that stood out to me.
I found it difficult to imagine / picture the environment and buildings on Dragon Island. I don't know if a map is included with the print version of the book. However, in the earlier novels, I could picture the settings / buildings in my mind very easily, for example the research station in the first novel Ice Station. In this though, I found it difficult to picture most of the buildings or any of the other physical features on the island, and I was unable to work out where everything was in relation to each other.
Also, the novel slows down in pace as it progresses and I lost interest as Scarecrow is only fending off the Army of Thieves, whereas in earlier novels say the first one, Ice station, he was fending off multiple waves of enemies. In that, first he defends the Ice station from the French, then the SAS etc. In this novel, it is all the same group which ends up being boring very quickly.
I didn't find any of the villains particularly dangerous or engaging in any way. They are pretty one dimensional characters especially the foot soldiers. I couldn't really understand their motivation behind their actions.
The author seems to have a fascination with anarchy and like the previous novel, the same theme is running through this. The names some of the villains are given didn't help either. The main villain is called the Lord of Anarchy which is comical rather than menacing. That isn't my favourite villain name though. It has to be one of the names of the lieutenants, 'Bad Willy'. We are told he is called this because he likes doing bad things with his willy. That's the main bad guy I remember even though he is a small player. I found the parts he came in funny and more memorable than the rest of the novel. I'm sure the author didn't intend this.
There is nothing really new or inventive about the action sequences in this. They aren't especially entertaining, as a lot of them have already been done in earlier novels, for example, there's a scene with a fight inside a cargo plane. This has already been done or certainly elements of this have been covered in earlier novels.
The author says in the interview at the end of the book that he wanted this to be leaner, meaner and faster than any of the earlier novels. I would say this was the opposite. It is slower in pace and action and wanders off into trying to do character development when he should concentrate on what he does best which is long complicated cool action set-pieces.
== Audio narration ==
I don't have a price for the audio CD version, but it is on 10 CDs. This is available from the Audible site also. It is unabridged and is 11 hours and 36 mins in length. It is read by Sean Mangan. All the previous Shane Scofield books I have read have been narrated by him also. He does an average job.
I mentioned earlier that there was an interview with the author right at the end of the novel. I think this must appear in the print version as well, as the narrator read all of it out. In some audio books, the author will talk in person to the narrator.
== Summary and recommendation ==
I give this two stars. I think some scenes are slightly more violent than the earlier novels in this series, but overall it is not as entertaining as any of the earlier novels (reviews of which I have posted on here also). Too much time is wasted on Scarecrow's emotions and character development instead of concentrating on complicated and well choreographed action sequences.
The earlier novels in this series are some of my favourite novels which I have reread multiple times, but this is one that I won't be picking up again.
Deep in the Arctic, a long-forgotten Soviet military base enshrouds a weapon of unimaginably destructive forcea Cold War doomsday device with the power to obliterate the planet. When a mysterious and brutal terrorist group known as the Army of Thieves seizes control of the remote base and unleashes the weapon upon an unsuspecting world, there is only one team close enough to sabotage them: a ragtag band of Marines and civilians led by Captain Shane Schofield, call sign Scarecrow. Outnumbered, outgunned, and with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance, Scarecrow has only a few short hours to bring down the Army of Thievesor see the Earth go up in flames. Filled with nonstop action and told in Matthew Reillys characteristically white-knuckle prose, Scarecrow Returns is a work of gripping suspense and complete exhilaration.