Well, it’s been about a decade since I last read a Matthew Reilly novel and I was in the mood for something fast-paced, so I thought that I’d take a look at his 1998 thriller novel “Ice Station”.
This was one of two novels in Reilly’s “Scarecrow” series that I found in a second-hand bookshop in Petersfield last year. Since I’d enjoyed the first three books in Reilly’s “Jack West Jr” series during the mid-late 2000s/early 2010s (although they were “so bad that they’re good”, they were still gripping enough for me to actually get a new hardback of “The Five Greatest Warriors” shortly after it was released in the UK), my decision to get these books was a bit of a no-brainer.
So, let’s take a look at “Ice Station”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins with a couple of book/lecture extracts about Antarctica and about a US military officer called Otto Niemeyer who mysteriously disappeared during the 1970s. The story then focuses on an American research base in the Antarctic called Wilkes Station. The scientists in the station have lost contact with a group of divers who have been sent to investigate an anomaly in the ice. When the rescue team surfaces in an ice cavern, they spot what appears to be a spacecraft lodged in the ice. However, they are soon attacked by something.
Back at the base, one of the researchers sends out a distress call detailing everything that has happened. A crack team of US marines, led by Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield, happen to be on the nearest ship and are dispatched to the base. However, the distress call had been sent out on an open broadcast. A broadcast that has been picked up by several other countries who are also interested in the spacecraft below the ice and are prepared to kill for it…
One of the first things that I will say about “Ice Station” is that it is a much better book than I’d expected 🙂 It’s a gloriously gripping, breathlessly fast-paced, gleefully over-the-top, brilliantly spectacular and just generally fun thriller novel that reminded me a little bit of a cross between Clive Cussler’s nautical thrillers, S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil” or “Aliens” novels (albeit without the zombies/aliens) and maybe Dan Brown’s “Deception Point”:) Seriously, if you enjoy gloriously over-the-top thriller novels, then this one is well worth reading.
So, I should probably start by talking about the novel’s thriller elements. This novel contains a brilliantly compelling mixture of suspense, mystery, plot twists, paranoia and the kind of ludicrously spectacular action set-pieces that only the highest-budget of blockbuster films could even dream about. The vast bulk of the novel focuses on Schofield having to hold the base against French and British special forces, with numerous time limits, harsh weather conditions, perilous situations, a murder mystery or two, the possibility of a traitor within his team and certain death looming around every corner.
This novel marries suspense and action absolutely perfectly, with each balancing the other out and ensuring that neither gets monotonous. In general, the novel will place the characters in a series of incredibly dangerous situations that they have to survive in various inventive, clever and/or action-packed ways. This cycle between suspense and action works pretty much every time and never really gets old. Not only that, the novel also makes good use of mini-cliffhangers and even a couple of sub-plots to keep things even more compelling 🙂
And, yes, although some of the novel’s set-pieces are highly-contrived “action movie” style scenes that also contain some obvious sci-fi technology (presented as “realistic” secret military equipment, weapons etc..) and some creatively silly bending of the laws of physics, this doesn’t actually matter thanks to the fact that not only does everything have an explanation that usually makes sense but also because of the sheer scale and drama of these scenes. This novel is the best type of thriller novel in that almost every perilous situation is actually a suspenseful timed puzzle that has to be solved through the use of thought, cunning and/or clever tactics rather than just mindless violence.
But, this isn’t to say that this is a pacifist novel. In fact, one of the interesting things about this novel is how much inspiration it takes from the horror genre 🙂 In addition to some chilling moments of suspense, cruelty, nature-based horror and character-based horror, this novel is almost as splatteriffically gruesome as a good 1980s horror novel too. Although the novel’s gory moments are a little quicker and less detailed than in a splatterpunk novel, they lend the action scenes a level of impact, grittiness and weight that you don’t usually see in more sanitised mainstream action-thriller novels.
In terms of the characters, whilst you certainly shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there’s enough here to make you care about the characters – with Schofield coming across an expert marine and badass action hero without being that much of a two-dimensional character. His team all have distinctive personalities, the civilians come across as reasonably realistic people and the villains are all suitably evil, formidable and/or chilling too 🙂 Plus, although it was a bit weird to see a thriller novel where the SAS were actually the villains, they’re presented in a suitably competent and fearsome way that makes them a worthy adversary for the main characters.
As for the writing, it’s better than I’d expected 🙂 For the most part, this novel uses the kind of slightly informal and occasionally technical “matter of fact” third-person narration that you’d expect from a fast-paced and highly-readable thriller novel. And, although there are a couple of signature Reilly flourishes (such as about four occasions where he uses a mid-sentence line break for “dramatic effect”), the novel comes across as being much more well-written than what I remember of his “Jack West Jr” novels. The closest comparison I can make is probably the writing style used in S.D.Perry’s “Resident Evil” and “Aliens” novels, yet the writing style still feels very much like Reilly’s.
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is excellent 🙂 Yes, it’s a hefty 611 pages in length, but you’ll probably blaze through this in the time it’ll take you to read a non-thriller novel a third the length. I’ve already mentioned how this novel mixes suspense and action perfectly, and this cycle continues throughout the novel. This is one of those books that never gets boring and which pretty much demands that you read more pages than you’d planned to read 🙂
In terms of how this twenty-two year old novel has aged, it has aged excellently. Seriously, if it wasn’t for a brief mention of a VCR and some vaguely “X-Files” influenced conspiracy theory stuff, you’d be hard-pressed to work out that this novel was from 1998 (rather than 2008 or 2018) if you didn’t look at the publication date.
All in all, this novel was a lot of fun to read 🙂 If you want a slightly over-the-top, wonderfully silly and very gripping thriller novel to relax with, then this one is well worth taking a look at. It also mixes suspense, mystery and action absolutely brilliantly, whilst also including a few well-placed horror genre elements too 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.