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Thursday, July 16, 2009

"The Doomsday Key" by James Rollins (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official James Rollins Website
Order "The Doomsday Key" HERE(US) and HERE(UK/Overseas)

INTRODUCTION: James Rollins is back with the 5th entry in the SIGMA series & the 6th book overall in the SIGMA-verse. This novel stands at 448 pages with 33 chapters divided into 4 parts with a prologue and an epilogue. It also features 'Notes from the Historical Record', 'Note from the Scientific Record' & an 'Author's Note to Readers: Truth or Fiction'.

These have always been a part of his books and especially so in the Sigma series and they make a very compelling read. For those interested in pursuit of more information regarding the subject of a particular book the notes are a veritable treasure trove.

The novel has all the chapters via third person narratives. The characters from the previous SIGMA books are all back in this one as well. We get to see Gray Pierce, Painter Crowe, Kat Bryant, Monk Kokkalis, Lisa Cummings & Joe Kowalski and quite a few extra personages form the previous books in the series.

OVERVIEW & ANALYSIS: This book is set after the events of the preceding two books namely "The Judas Strain" & "The Last Oracle". The superlative writing of Jim's books makes it easy for the new reader to jump in directly in this book & understand the story. This however is not advisable purely from a Rollins fan perspective as one would be able to understand the characters arcs & the overall back story in a lucid manner if one has read the preceding titles.

"The Doomsday Key" opens with a prologue set in the 11th century England. This has been the case since the 1st SIGMA book "Map of Bones" wherein James Rollins has always set the prologue always in a different time & era in regards to the book.

The prologue is set during the compilation of the "Doomsday Book" about which more can be learned HERE. The collectors happen upon a village with strange markings and an entirely decimated population. The strange cause of death is definitely shocking as are the weird symbols etched there. From this scenario we proceed ahead by a millennium roughly and we are shown two morbid scenarios on two different continents, one in Africa & the other in Rome.

We are then introduced to Gray Pierce & Monk Kokkalis who are interrupted in their male-bonding soiree by Painter Crowe informing them about the aforementioned events. Not before long, Gray travels to Rome to meet Rachel Verona & understand the events happening over there while Monk travels with the newest member of Sigma, John Creed, to check the stuff sent from Africa.

Awaiting Gray in Rome is Seichan, the Guild assassin, who has an agenda of her own and is desperate to nullify the actions occurring in the "Judas Strain". Taking these two plot threads, Mr. Rollins weaves quite an adventure with lots of action, battles & explosions in a variety of locales and then gives quite some fascinating bits of information about various groups & places in the locations mentioned.

The scientific & mystical facts which form the basis of this novel are enumerated below:

- The disappearance of bees from colonies worldwide

- Saint Malachy's prophecy concerning the 111 popes of Rome of which coincidentally, Pope Benedict is the 111th as predicted in the Saint's vision

- The hunger problem faced by the world in which the population is increasing exponentially while the food supply isn't

- Genetically modified crops & the scary possibilities faced by mankind due to rash & unethical experimentation

Taking these facts & enmeshing them with histories about the Celtic cross & Black Madonna, along with real life organizations & places like The Rome Club & the Doomsday Vault, James Rollins has written another successful SIGMA book & fans of the writer will not be disappointed at all. In fact the ending chapters have some terrific revelations for the series as well as a partial cliffhanger outcome.

The only negatives in the book are similar but to a markedly lesser degree as listed by Robert Thompson in his FBC review of "The Last Oracle" last year. However I believe James Rollins is writing adventure-laced tech thrillers and these aberrations can be pardoned for the sake & pace of the story. This is another extremely fast paced thrill ride created by a writer who seems to have honed his skills to near perfection and has craftily set the stage for a magnificent encounter between SIGMA & its ubiquitous adversary within the next series book. Also the way in which James ends the last chapter, will most likely start a huge debate amongst fans regarding the identity of the character left unnamed.

NOTE: Fans of the author and other similar thriller writers might notice a character being mentioned who is not created by James Rollins but by another terrific writer who shall go unnamed in this review, but for the ever curious person (like me) please hop over HERE & scroll all the way down to this specific video interview "Writers Digest Live: 31 July 2008" (15th from the top) and therein lie all the answers you seek!

Here's another review of this novel from someone whom I look up to & in case you are wondering as to why her name sounds familiar, do check the 1st chapter in the "Judas Strain" & all your questions will be answered.


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