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Monday, July 2, 2007

"The Judas Strain" by James Rollins

Official James Rollins Website
Buy “The Judas StrainHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Watch “The Judas StrainTrailer HERE
Play the Sigma Force Game HERE

In “Sandstorm” (2004), readers were introduced to Sigma – ‘a militarized team of technically trained operatives who covertly safeguarded or neutralized technologies (military, biological, chemical, nuclear, etc.) vital to U.S. security under the eye of DARPA, the Department of Defense’s research and development division’ –, their evil counterparts the Guild, and protagonist Painter Crowe, while the plot dealt with antimatter, the Queen of Sheba and the prophet Job. In “The Da Vinci Code” styled “Map of Bones” (2005), the first ‘Sigma Force’ designated novel, Grayson Pierce, Monk Kokkalis, Kat Richardson and Seichan came into the picture, which found Sigma and the Guild teaming up to oppose the Dragon Court, an ancient, secret fraternity of alchemists and assassins whose quest for Armageddon lay hidden in the bones of the Three Wise Men. Then, in last year’s “Black Order”, the Sigma team, along with Dr. Lisa Cummings from the “Deep Fathom” book, found themselves caught up in another world-threatening adventure, involving Nazis, Charles Darwin, zero point energy, Aryan supermen, and mythological beasts.

Now, in “The Judas Strain”, the latest novel from James Rollins, a New York Times bestselling author who also writes fantasy (The Banned & the Banished, the Godslayer Chronicles) under the pen name James Clemens – both are pseudonyms for Jim Czajkowski –, the Sigma team is back to save the world once again. This time readers will join Grayson, Painter, Monk, Lisa, Vigor (from “Map of Bones”) and Seichan as they race against the clock to solve a riddle that deals with Marco Polo and the language of angels, and which might be the key to preventing an ancient plague from wiping out humanity…

If you were to splice pieces of a Michael Crichton, Clive Cussler and Dan Brown book with elements of Mission Impossible, Bond and Die Hard, then you would have the basic formula for a James Rollins novel. In other words, think pulse-pounding, Hollywood-style action balanced by fantastic scientific concepts and historical mysteries that are inspired from factual data. In fact, all of Mr. Rollins’ books read very much like a big-budget action flick, with huge explosions, tons of gunplay, nonstop thrills, massive set pieces and death-defying stunts. Unfortunately, like those types of movies, you also have shallow characterization – the good guys always win and the villains usually die in spectacular fashion –, meaningless romances where the hero gets the girl, cheesy one-liners, occasional plot inconsistencies, and implausible moments – how do the heroes never die? – that require dedicated suspension of disbelief. Thankfully, Mr. Rollins’ novels are smarter and more interesting than your average shoot ‘em up, and since the author has been perfecting his trade for a while now (“The Judas Strain” is book number nine), “The Judas Strain” is quite possibly the novelist’s most polished and impressive work yet.

Of the scientific/historical aspects, the novels are usually very well researched and “The Judas Strain” is no exception. Not only are readers exposed to some extraordinary scenarios based on truthful information regarding Marco Polo, angelic script, modern day cannibals & pirates, and bacteria, but the book also takes us around the globe to such fascinating locales as the Indonesian Islands, Istanbul, the Persian Gulf and Cambodia. Now, I’ve heard complaints that Mr. Rollins’ fact-building is not as deep or thought-provoking as other historical fiction/techno-thrillers, and that he’s had problems in the past with obvious technical mistakes and info-dumping at unrealistic moments, but personally, I’ve never had any issues and I’ve always appreciated this dimension of the author’s books, which has become sort of a James Rollins trademark.

Technically, “The Judas Strain” is the third ‘Sigma Force’ novel – fourth if you count “Sandstorm” – and honestly I was somewhat torn by the author’s decision to create a series out of his Sigma Force characters. On the one hand, it’s fun to see familiar faces saving the world over & over again, and because Sigma, the Guild and the characters have already been established in earlier books, the author has more room to focus on other details, which Mr. Rollins takes full advantage of. On the other hand, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to continually accept the impossible situations that the Sigma team always gets out of. It’s one thing to suspend your disbelief for a single book, and quite another when you have to do it many times over with the same characters. Additionally, you’re starting to see another problem rise up in the form of rehashed ideas, particularly the whole Marco Polo/keys sequence in “The Judas Strain”, which is very “Map of Bones” like, not to mention the improbably quick manner in which puzzles are always solved. Of course, if you’re a fan of the series, I don’t think these issues will be too much of a deterrent since “The Judas Strain” is another highly entertaining, jam-packed adventure novel that continues to raise the bar, including some shocking developments involving major characters. Personally, I thought “The Judas Strain” was the best Sigma Force novel yet, and readers will be happy to learn that there’ll be at least one more book in the series, as no less than three storylines are left unresolved at the novel’s end…

In summary, “The Judas Strain” is vintage James Rollins. Veteran readers of Mr. Rollins will know what I’m talking about and will no doubt enjoy “The Judas Strain” if they liked any of his other novels. Newcomers, all I can say is take a chance. Mr. Rollins’s earlier books like “Amazonia” or “Ice Hunt” are recommended, but if “The Judas Strain” sounds up your alley, I’d at least start with either “Sandstorm” or “Map of Bones” to find out more about Sigma Force first. For those that are still skeptical, sure, James Rollins’ books are not the most controversial or provocative reading material out there, and like any blockbuster film you probably won’t remember much of the novel after you’ve finished it. However, for anyone who’s looking for an escape, you can’t go wrong with a James Rollins book and “The Judas Strain” in particular is about as much fun as a person can have this summer without actually going to the theatres…


Anonymous said...

Hi Robert!
Nice review.
I read Rollins' first book back when it was released years ago. I dug the cool triple cover things, they were awesome. But, for some unknown reason, like Koontz, I always tell myself i'm gonna buy their latest release and I never do, darn it!! Well, I guess i'll save them for when i'm old and can relax in my la z boy chair and read all day long.

Keep up the good work!


Robert said...

Thanks as always for checking out the website. James Rollins is definitely a book to sit down and relax to. And, it looks like you'll have plenty of reading material to relax to when you get old enough ;)

Anonymous said...

I read his first book I have read every single one since. Rollins has a way to captivate you and take you into a different world. He also includes real facts and truths in his books and normally expands on the idea. His books are a great way to enjoy your free time. Or if you just want a really good book...

Kala said...

The churning of the sea of milk or Samudra mantan in Hindu purana depicts Siva as the savior who drank the poison ‘Halahala’ that surfaced before ‘amrita’. The book states otherwise that it was Vishnu who drank the poison.

Anonymous said...

On page 461 it is said Vishnu drank the poison. But it was Shiva. Who is hence called neel kanth(blue throat). Atleast that's what I have heard. Apart from that great book.

The Reader said...

Hi Kala & Anon.

I had noted the same discrepancies in the book. I believe James has noted them as well, don't know though if they have been corrected in the later editions.



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