And Sigma is going down in more ways than one.
Everyone that knows me knows that, normally, I would pick a fantasy book over a thriller without much of a thought. However, there are some thrillers that I really do enjoy. The Sigma Force series by James Rollins is one of them.
I’m a fan of James Rollins and of the Sigma Force series. I have been since eighth grade, when one day, during class, my chemistry teacher came over to me and said: “Have you finished the assignment? Did you understand everything? Okay, great! Now read this.” and shoved a copy of The Last Oracle in my face. “Better than Dan Brown,” he said. I loved that teacher, and after I read The Last Oracle, I agreed with him too, at least to a certain level. In some ways, James Rollins was better, or at least equal, to Dan Brown, and when I read Map of Bones and The Black Order, my opinion changed from “some” to “many”.
But with James Rollins’ last book, The Devil Colony, my opinion has changed again, but this time not for the upper, and I’m afraid that Bloodline hasn’t made everything much better.
The book starts out in 1025, when one of the original nine Knights Templar – a woman, believe it or not – discovers an ancient artifact, the Bachal Isu, the Staff of Jesus, in the hands of a man who claims to be centuries old.
A millennium later, a pregnant American woman on a yacht is kidnapped by Somali pirates off the coast of the Seychelles. That woman is none other than Amanda Gant-Bennet, the daughter of the President of the United States. Commander Gray Pierce, along with the ex-assassin/terrorist Seichan, jarhead Kowalski and two new characters, the ex-military Captain Tucker and his dog (Major) Kane, must find and rescue the presidents’ daughter and her baby, before the worst happens.
Meanwhile, halfway around the world, a shadowy clinic, run by shadowy people, is doing shadowy things in order to manipulate our genetic code, all the while Sigma’ Director Painter Crowe tries to find ways to destroy the Guild, a terrorist organization that is suspected to be led by none other than the Presidents’ family, the Gants.
Oh, did I mention that the baby that Amanda Gant-Bennet is carrying holds the key to one of the greatest mysteries of the world and whose very existence raises questions about the nature of humanity and whether or not we can be immortal? Because he does.
Sounds exciting, right? Like, nail-biting, toe-curling, sit-on-the-edge-of-the-seat exciting, right? Yeah, I thought so too. In fact, based on Rollins’ past works (Devil’s Colony not included), I expected it to be so. Then I read the book, and I found myself feeling a bit disappointed.
Let me explain: There is action. Lots of it. Maybe not as much as in some of his other novels, but James Rollins does follow the Thrillers’ Traditional and Patented Approach of Bang!, Bang!, Bang!, ca-BOOM!!, with side-dishes of half-naked women with knives and blunt objects, throat-slashing dogs and robotic killing machines, not to mention the general goriness in all its gory glory. And yes, Gray and his team do travel all over the world, visit famous cities/countries where they blow-up very historically or scientifically important/freakishly expensive monument/statue/cave/building. This years’ chosen destinations were Somalia and Dubai.
So you know that those elements of Sigma Forces’ novels are well and present, and that they aren’t what made me feel disappointed about this book.
One of the main things that made me not like this book as much as the others was the writing. You know what they say (whoever they are): the more you write the better you get at it. With James Rollins, it seems to be the other way around. I’m pretty sure that he used to write better a few years ago, when he was getting started. Let me tell you that I had a hard time reading Bloodline’ first fifty pages, something that had never happened to me with a JR book. I started Bloodline after I finished reading a book by Terry Pratchett, and I realized that the writing wasn’t that good. Yes, I know that comparing James Rollins with Terry Pratchett is kind of like comparing potatoes with salmon, that one has nothing to do with the other, but still, it hit me that the way that Bloodline is written isn’t, well, good. I mean, it’s correct, the grammar is correct, the commas are all placed in the right places, but on the other hand the sentences are rather simple, basic even. Easy. Too easy. Yes, you get your point across, but it’s too straightforward, and there’s no craftsmanship. It’s like driving on the high-way instead of taking secondary roads: yes, you get there faster, but you don’t appreciate the view. It lacks luster.
Now, you might say: “Well, it’s a thriller, not a Jane Austen novel.” Yes, I know, but I can’t help but to look back at his older work and think that James Rollins’ writing quality has gone down a bit.
But that’s not the only problem I had with this book.
Bloodline is one of JRs’ books that features less character development. Or rather, it’s one of his books where the character development is more inconsistent, where the characters themselves are inconsistent. I am serious, there are parts in the book where a character says something or does something that makes me go: “Wait…What? WTF? O.o”
The only significant character development that we see in the characters that we already know is the Angst Mode that Seichan suddenly sprouted out of nowhere. I’m serious, she spends about 1/3 of the book feeling angsty about her oh-so-angsty-and-traumatic-and-“they-tried-to-break-me”-past (and I’m being generous). Seriously, someone give that chick a box of paper tissues and gallon of chocolate-flavored Häagen-Dazs! So yeah, if you’re like me, a ruthless-bloodthirsty-Seichan fan, beware, she’s going to hard to find.
Now, with the problems of the writing and the character development, to me the book was not as interesting and exciting as the synopsis above induced me to believe it was.
Don’t get me wrong. Like I said, there is action, but bang, bang, bang! isn’t the only thing that makes an action book. The plot also takes part in that process. Bloodline is fairly fast paced, and the theme of the novel, immortality, is a good one, however, the plot did nothing for me. It didn’t thrill me. It’s not that it’s badly constructed, nor is absurd, quite on the contrary, it’s just not surprising. It’s not that’s predictable, per se, it’s that while reading it, there are times when you can pretty much tell what is going to happen, and when you can’t, when something does happen, it doesn’t surprise you. It didn’t surprise me. And twists – which compared with the other novels, are not as frequent – while some were quite good, some even awesomely good, some felt a bit lazy while other just…well, let’s just say that there is a part in the novel that made me go: “Seriously? Seriously, James Rollins, are you freaking kidding me?! Are you seriously going to do this?! Oh, god…*facepalm*”
So combined with the less-than-great writing and the character development, there are times when you feel that the plot, like the writing lacks a certain luster that was present before.
All of these things – the writing, the character development, plot twists- I could’ve or even would’ve overlooked if this had been a novel written by a first-time, or even second-time novelist, but James Rollins has published more than a dozen books, including his fantasy series “The Banned and the Bannished”, that he wrote as James Clemmens.
However, for all its problem, its less than good writing, character development and plot twists, Bloodline does have its fair share of good stuff.
One of its good points is the master-owner/companionship between two of the new characters, Tucker and his dog Kane. Even though I’m a cat person myself, I must admit that I found the relationship between Kane and his owner to be not only interesting, but also very sweet. I have no means of knowing if the portrait of their dog-master relationship is accurate or not (cat person here), I just know that the things that Tucker does for his dog are highpoints of the story in my book.
Another thing that I really liked about Bloodline was the relationship between Lisa Cummings and Painter Crowe. They are absolutely adorable together! But what I liked the most about this relationship in this particular book is the way that Painter behaved. Painter Crowe, who has been my favorite character since Sandstorm, is a romantic, and he is heads-over-heels in love with Lisa. However, when Lisa gets into trouble, instead of Painter doing the “typical man thing” and barging into danger guns a-waving to save the damsel in distress, no, he worried, he worries like hell, but he’s able to maintain his cool and see that it would be more beneficial to both him and Lisa if he figured out a way to resolve the situation without being a typical, too stupid to live hero and without using the Male Hero Patented Approach of shoot once, shoot twice, shoot some more and then when everybody is dead, try and ask a question or two, if you are still alive, that is. It may not be romantic, but it’s logical, and that is a trait that I like in characters like Painter.
Also, James Rollins had the brilliant idea of using characters that had been, until now, severely unutilized: Dra. Lisa Cummings and Captain Kat Bryant. Both of these characters only had active parts on two of JRs’ previous Sigma Force Novels, respectively Black Order and Map of Bones, having after that been reduced to being either Painter’s girlfriend (in case of Lisa) or a wife, mother and Painter’s second in command (in case of Kat). True, they both still held positions of high prestige throughout the novels, but my point is that they didn’t take much part in the story, and were reduced to being secondary characters. To see these two ladies take such active parts in the story is not only very clever, but also a breath of fresh air. Both of them are complete bad asses, for one. They show that the ladies can kick just as much butt as the guys, if not even more, without them having angsty pasts, guilty conscious and being called Seichan. Thumbs up for them!
Not to mention that James Rollins is, pure and simple, a master of cliffhangers. He knows exactly what to say at the end of each chapter to make you continue reading the book, even if you are feeling disappointed. And the end of Bloodline…Oh My God! I loved it, absolutely loved it, it was, without any doubt, my favorite part of the whole book. In my opinion, one of the best plot twists and cliffhangers in the entire Sigma Force and, even though I ended Bloodline not feeling very enthusiastic about the series, that end made me want to read the next novel.
So yeah, kudos to you, James!
Now we have finally arrived at the end of my freakishly long review. I’m sorry if I bored you to death. But before I go, the closing statements: Would I recommend the series, Sigma Force, to someone? Yes, I would. Absolutely. Not a problem. Even with James Rollins recent faux pas, I still love it. Would I recommend this particular novel, Bloodline, to anyone, outside of the series? No, I wouldn’t. Sorry, Mr. Rollins, it’s not your worst novel (Devil’s Colony and Ice Hunt will forever hold that title for me), but it’s simply not good enough for me to recommend to anyone who hasn’t read the series from the beginning. However, thanks to that wonderful end, I will still read the next one, and hope that it will be better than this one. Better luck next time!
Time that took me to read: 18 days.
Rate: A good, solid C
and it would’ve been C+ if not for that Seichan/Robert thing.