Book Review: The Secret Runners of New York, by Matthew Reilly

The Secret Runners of New York, Matthew Reilly, Pan Macmillan Australia, 2019

From the publisher: THE COMING END

When Skye Rogers and her twin brother Red move to Manhattan, rumours of a coming global apocalypse are building.

But the young elite of New York keep partying without a care.

CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET?

And then suddenly Skye is invited to join an exclusive gang known as the Secret Runners of New York.

This is no ordinary clique – they have access to an underground portal that can transport them into the future.

And what Skye discovers in the future is horrifying …

When I was a teenager, like Skye Rogers – the protagonist of Matthew Reilly’s new YA book, The Secret Runners of New York, the end of the world was an abstract concept. It was an event that occurred in books and movies – a range of fantastical apocalypses, brought about by viruses, nuclear war or – most thrillingly – aliens.

Watching these disasters unfold on the big screen was an exercise in comfortable terror. The end of the world was suitably epic, every time, and we sat in our cinema seats, tense-limbed and wide eyed, but …

We knew we’d be okay.

Will Smith and Tom Cruise would come and save us and the cinema lights would come up and we’d spill out into the cool suburban night, giggling, safe in the knowledge that it was all just a story. We were fine. We would be fine.

Flash forward twenty years.

Watching the horror of disasters directly related to climate change unfolding, while reading this book, was a surreal and quite terrifying experience.

It doesn’t feel, any longer, as if Will Smith is going to save us.

He’s playing a genie now, dancing and singing and distracting us from our existential horror, but he’s no saviour, any more.

The end of the world is slowly unfolding in front of our eyes, instead of on our screens.

And now, writers and artists are responding to reality, instead of imagining fantastical futures.

Matthew Reilly’s take on the end of the world has all his trademark strong world-building and breathtaking action, but it is very grounded in reality. He spends a great deal of time in the “real world” of the elite New York private school, before taking us into fantastical territory, and it’s worth it. I had fully invested in his characters, world and premise before he threw them into peril.

Reilly is a writer of great experience, skill and imagination. In his hands, the end of the world proves the be both wildly imaginative and very plausible. Unfortunately, this book felt less like escapism that it might have, had I read it as a teenager – but that is less a flaw in writing than a flaw in the choices mankind has made, to bring us to this point.

My one real quibble is that I, at times, found Reilly’s rendering of the teenage girl experience slightly uncomfortable – but maybe that’s always going to be the case in a middle-aged man (I say as a middle-aged woman) writing young female.

Aside from that, I highly recommend The Secret Runners of New York and I highly anticipate the sequel.

Is it too much to ask, however, that Will Smith rides in on his magic carpet to save them all?

Is it too much to ask that he breaks through the cinema screen to save all of us?

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