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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bloodline by James Rollins

Let me start this review with two confessions. 1) James Rollins is my favourite author, so I'm not exactly impartial (though I think my adoration is well-deserved). 2) I love Da Vinci Code-esque books. Let me be more clear. Dan Brown can't write and what he does write is obviously fiction. However, I will sacrifice writing quality for a good story, and because of that I enjoyed Da Vinci Code. And that sub-genre has become my favourite: full of action and adventure, conspiracies, mysteries and ancient secrets (usually of a religious bent) that will change the world if revealed all wrapped up in a gripping story. I can usually tell by the cover of a book if I'll enjoy it, though I have been wrong occasionally.

And that's how I picked up my first James Rollins book. I started with the third one in the series, Black Order. I picked it up in an airport and while I loved the story and finished it to find out what happened, I couldn't stand the protagonist, Gray Pierce. Something about him rubbed me the wrong way and I found myself unable to relate to him and couldn't find him sympathetic--I couldn't root for him to win. While I enjoyed the story and the action, my dislike of the main character prompted me to put James Rollins on my list of "Authors to Avoid." I need this list because cover art tends to rope me in and I'm usually a few chapters in before I look at the author's name. I avoided his books for a few years, but eventually forgot his name and ended up picking up Map of Bones. To this day, that book remains my favourite. I consumed it within a day and went searching for the next book in the series--Black Order. A few pages in, I started getting deja vu. It took me a while to remember that I had in fact read this book, and that I disliked it. And even though I didn't like Gray at first, I found myself falling a bit more in love with him with each book. I think I caught up with the series by The Doomsday Key and have spent every year looking forward to the next release. I've read every book he's written, including his stand alone action books, both novelettes and his "children's" series (which is way better than Rick Riordan or Michael Scott and really need more recognition). I have yet to start the fantasy series he wrote (under the name James Clemens), but they're on my list. His writing is consistently wonderful, even when his stories don't grab me (Altar of Eden wasn't my favourite, sorry). The 8th (and latest) book in his Sigma Force series came out in late June, entitle Bloodline.

Similar to Michael Crichton, James Rollins bases his books on real science. I realize this is a fiction book, and the science he describes is not necessarily possible in the way he describes it yet. However, a lot of the science and advances he describes are based on real experiments, he simply takes the conclusions to the next logical step. Bloodline is no different in this respect. The books have begun moving away from the mystery-shrouded religious object (though one plays a minor role in the prologue of Bloodline) and more toward government conspiracy. I'm a little disappointed, especially since the prologue (which was released as a sneak peek) seemed to promise a more mystically-linked book, but nonetheless, Bloodline does not disappoint. The action sequences are fantastic and gripping. We get to meet new characters, one of whom has four legs (seriously, I wish I could train my pups so well--they still struggle with "Come"). We see developments of older characters as well--not only does Rollins finally address the Gray-Seichan relationship (almost and implicitly, but it's something), but we see Monk return (yay!) and an unexpected development that I won't give away. Bloodline also provides some answers to the Guild and its origins; at the same time that the Guild is being torn asunder and dispersed, a new antagonist to Sigma rises from its ashes and brings up a whole slew of new questions. Despite that, the wrap up still answered things satisfactorily, and I was pleased with the neat little package that was left, with some tantalizing loose ends that are just begging to be tugged on. It was a great read, and as always, I had no difficulty imagining myself in the characters' world.

As with all my favourite series and authors, coming to the end of the newest book is bittersweet. Due to work, it took me 3-4 days to finish Bloodline (as opposed to the >24 hours for Devil Colony), but the end still came too soon, as it always does. I love losing myself in the world of whatever book I'm reading, especially Sigma Force's world, and the end wrap-up is satisfying, but I hate having to pull myself out of that world and wait at least another year for the next chance to immerse myself. Yes, I can reread the books, but it's not the same as the first time read. (Yes, it's totally a first world problem). Rollins' writing is neat, succinct, witty and engrossing: his actions scenes would give the Die Hard franchise a run for its money and the characters are fleshed out and fully human. The fact that it took me a while to warm up to them is part of the humanity they possess. I can't wait to see where Rollins takes the series next; not only in the development of the "new" antagonist, but also in how the relationships develop. And I really want to see more of the new characters Tucker and Kane; I was disappointed they didn't become regular Sigma members at the end.

While Bloodline is the 8th book in the Sigma Force series, you could read it as a stand alone book if you wanted to. Having a background in the series would allow for a richer read with less chance of confusion, but I think that for the most part, Rollins does a pretty good job of not needing the background. I would recommend the book, and the series, to anyone who loves action books or those mystery-conspiracy books I'm so fond of. The writing is excellent, and plays out like a movie in your mind. Now, to settle in for the long wait for Rollins' next book...maybe I will go back and reread the series...again. If you pick up one of the Sigma Force series, let me know your thoughts!

Sigma Force Series (in order):
1) Sandstorm
2) Map of Bones
3) Black Order
4) The Judas Strain
5) The Last Oracle
6) The Doomsday Key
7) The Devil Colony
8) Bloodline

Skeleton Key (featuring Seichan)
Tracker (featuring Tucker and Kane)

Standalone Books:
Deep Fathom (Sigma Characters)
Ice Hunt (Sigma Character)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (*Ok, I haven't read this one)
Altar of Eden

Children's Series:
1) Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow
2) Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx

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