Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia (Trade Paperback Format – 26 March 2019)
Series: Standalone/Book 1
Length: 328 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The end of the world has nothing on the horrors of high school in this fast-paced and widely entertaining new book from bestselling Australian author Matthew Reilly.
When Skye Rogers and her twin brother, Red, are forced to move to New York city, they are enrolled in the prestigious The Monmouth School, learning institute of choice for the city’s ultra-wealthy and social elite. Even among the children of the rich and powerful there exists a well-established hierarchy, and in The Monmouth School, the top of the social ladder are the friends and cronies of the Collins sisters, Misty and Chastity. Despite only wanting a quiet existence in her new school, Skye finds herself drawn into their orbit against her better judgement.
Skye soon discovers that hanging out with the Collins sisters is very different from the usual high school cliques. The social group is probably the most exclusive in New York, and it comes with certain privileges. Thanks to an ancient family secret, the Collins sisters are able to activate an ancient tunnel beneath Central Park that allows teenagers to run through an alternate version of New York: a post-apocalyptic nightmare littered with ruined buildings and filled with crazed survivors.
When Skye and her fellow runners find evidence that the New York they are visiting is actually a future version of their own timeline, they need to find a way to come to terms with the end of the world, especially as the apocalypse appears to be only days away. As society starts to crumble and the poor rise up against the rich, Skye tries to find a way to use her knowledge of the future to save everyone she loves. However, Skye is about to learn that her new friends are far more concerned with revenge and are planning to use the end of the world to take her down.
Matthew Reilly is a veteran author of weird and electrifying fiction, having written a number of intriguing books in the last 20 years, many of which fall within the techno-thriller or science fiction genres. In addition to a number of fun sounding standalone novels, Reilly has also published two substantial series, the Shane Schofield series and the Jack West Jr series. Matthew Reilly is one of those authors that I have been meaning to check out for some time, as a number of his novels sound absolutely bonkers and really creative. I am particularly drawn to his 2014 release, The Great Zoo of China, which essentially sounds like Jurassic Park with dragons; his 2013 historical thriller The Tournament; and the books in the Jack West Jr series, which features secret organisations fighting for control of ancient artefacts with world-and universe-ending potential.
I was therefore very excited to get an advanced copy of The Secret Runners of New York, due to its intriguing time travel and armageddon concepts. I actually really enjoyed The Secret Runners of New York and had a lot of fun reading it. The book features a surprisingly entertaining use of over-the-top high school drama that actually combines really well with the interesting science fiction elements mentioned above. The result is an unpredictable and amusing overall story that I had a very hard time putting down and which I powered through in very short order.
The book revolves around the students at The Monmouth School (you have to say the “The”; it’s that type of place), New York’s premier high school for the rich and snooty. Please remind me to never send any of my theoretical children to any school thought up by Reilly, as the author creates a learning institution that is essentially a viper’s nest of bitchiness, enforced social hierarchy and petty revenge, all of which is enhanced by the fact that the characters are all ultra-rich or have massive superiority complexes. The quote below from main character Skye, one of the few well-adjusted characters in the book, shows her experiences within the first few minutes at The Monmouth School:
“In the space of a few minutes I’d seen a taunt about sluttiness, a threatened punch to the uterus, some humble bragging by the Head Girl about the school’s social status and a dose of good old-fashioned mean-girl passive aggressiveness from Misty. School, I reflected sadly, was school no matter how high the tuition fees were.”
I have to admit I did find Reilly’s portrayal of most of the rich teenage girls in this book to be a tad extreme and unrealistic (yes, in a book featuring time travel, that’s what I am finding unrealistic). I have never been and never will be a teenage girl, but I hope that teenage girls in high school couldn’t possibly be as petty and vicious as the girls portrayed within this book, even if they are the daughters of the uber-privileged. That being said, I found this over-the-top viewpoint of high school life to be extremely entertaining and it was a fantastic element throughout the book. Watching the level-headed and somewhat cynical protagonist have to deal with this insanity was a lot of fun, especially when you would imagine most people would be more concerned with the end of the world than with who made out with which guy. An unbelievably amusing part of the story, these high school elements are great, just try and avoid thinking about it too much.
In addition to the look at the mean girls of high school, I did quite enjoy Reilly’s critique of the ultra-rich and powerful in New York City. The protagonist finds herself drawn into the world of debutant balls, society politics and the other classy responsibilities of being rich in New York. Again, this is an interesting part of the story, and the rich characters with their extravagant lifestyles do offer a nice disconnect from reality. I liked Reilly’s examination of how the rich would be targeted during apocalyptic events such as the one portrayed within this book, and it played nicely into some of the current protests and perceptions of the 1%. it’s another glorious over-the-top element for this book that provides the reader with a lot of entertainment and a real dislike of most of the privileged characters.
The science fiction parts of this book are incredibly well done and are an excellent part of this book. Not only is there a devastating cosmic storm that will wipe out most of humanity in hours, but there is an unrelated magical tunnel that the protagonists can use to visit the future. Reilly does an amazing job creating a devastating and crazy post-apocalyptic New York City for the readers to explore. I was really impressed with all the brutal descriptions of how the city was in ruins and had been dramatically reclaimed by nature as the infrastructure falls into disrepair, and the whole thing is an amazing setting that Reilly uses to full effect. I really liked how the author uses the time travel elements within the book. Watching the protagonists slowly work out that this world is a future version of their own timeline is amazing, and it was great seeing them see all the testimonials and letters from their families describing the events that are yet to happen in their future. The various time travelling shenanigans used by both the protagonists and antagonists of this book helped enhance this already exciting story, and I loved the way that the characters are able to see the consequences of their actions in both timelines before they actually happen.
The author has also utilised some eye-catching visual elements throughout the book to enhance the story being told. There are a number of maps used to show the key locations of the book, and there are even a couple of diagrams used to explain the potential time travel issues in this book. I personally liked the way that the font changed to signify the characters going into a different timeline and thought it was a nice touch. A range of other text techniques are used to signify angry or desperate messages on different locations, such as walls or the entirety of buildings, often conveying the emotion behind these messages. All these visual treats are great, and they really make this book stand out.
The Secret Runners of New York is currently being marketed to the teen and young adult audiences, but this book is really on the edge of what young adult fiction is. While it is focused on teenage characters in high school, there are a significant number of very adult inclusions throughout the book. It is interesting to note that in an interview at the back of the book, Reilly himself indicates that he does not see this story as being as a piece of young adult fiction, and I think that is shown in the way that he wrote this over-the-top story. There is a high level of violence, drug use, coarse language and sexual references featured throughout this book, and as a result, I would say it is not really appropriate for the younger audiences and is probably more suited for older teenage readers. This is definitely one of those young adult marketed books that adult readers can really enjoy, and there is no upper limit on enjoying this crazy tale.
This was an incredibly entertaining and captivating book that I had a lot of fun with. Matthew Reilly pulls no punches when it comes to portraying the book’s petty and vicious teenage rich girl antagonists, which turns an already intriguing science fiction book into a wild thrill ride of revenge, betrayal and insanity. I have to say that I quite enjoyed my first taste of Matthew Reilly’s writing and I am extremely keen to check out some of his other works in the future. At the moment The Secret Runners of New York is a standalone book, although the author leaves a number of storylines open for sequels or prequels, and I would be interested to see where he takes the story next.