Thursday, February 26, 2009

A No-Spoilers Review

The Last Oracle: A Novel (Sigma Force)
by James Rollins

Last summer, the diabolical Mr. Rollins left his fans with a cliff-hanger ending that was simply TORTUROUS. Let me start this review by telling readers that the unresolved questions are answered thoroughly and in a completely satisfying manner. And, you don't have to wait `til the end of the book to learn those answers. Yes, that's all very vague, but I don't want to give away a thing.

Now the above paragraph may seem pretty intimidating or off-putting if you haven't read the novel that precedes this one, The Judas Strain. Well, here's the most impressive thing about The Last Oracle: It absolutely works as a stand alone novel. Yes, it's great if you're a long-time fan of the Sigma Force novels, but Rollins manages to jump-start this tale from the opening pages, and I don't think you'd need any back story to dive right into this adventure. And never once did I feel like there was that awkward exposition you often see in series novels. Bravo!

The hard part of reviewing any James Rollins novel is trying to summarize the plot. This novel opens in 398 A.D., with the eponymous Oracle of Delphi. The final moments of the temple are depicted. A few pages later we're in Romania, circa 1959. The Ruskies are rounding up a bunch of charming villagers. And a few pages after that we're at last in modern-day DC, with our old friend Gray Pierce of Sigma. Walking across the Mall, he's approached by a "homeless" man. As he pauses to give the guy a hand-out, a shot rings out. Gray is safe, but the derelict is killed. Later investigation suggests the stranger was the intended target, not Gray. This is confirmed when Gray's boss takes one look at the body and say's, "I know this man."

It turns out the man was an important part of Sigma history. Two clues from his murder lead Gray to the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History. There he meets Elizabeth Polk, who becomes a major player in the novel. The scenes in the museum (where I once worked in real life) are among my favorite that Rollins has ever written. The action picks up at this point, and as one clue leads to another, Gray, Elizabeth, and an assortment of Sigma and non-Sigma characters find themselves globe-trotting from India to Russia. With this author, it's pretty much a given that the action comes fast and furious, and the pages will fly by at lightning speed.

Along the way, Rollins explores the connections of autism to the Oracle of Delphi, the history of the Romani (Gypsy) people, and the advancement of the human race. We get to visit with old favorite characters from books past (though some you'll expect are notably missing) and we'll meet some new characters too. Not all are human.

As always, there was some real science entwined in the plot that absolutely floored me! Sometimes it's almost an aside and you just wish the entire novel was about the fact that, apparently, human beings (all of us) can see two or three seconds into the future. And again Rollins provides an afterward to clarify fact vs. fiction and cite some of his sources. He also manages to incorporate up-to-the-minute current events into the novel's plot. It was a little bizarre to have real life news delving very directly into the novel's story. Talk about timely!

Okay, I'm unable to summarize this plot in any meaningful way. It's simply too complex. But The Last Oracle is fantastic addition to the Sigma novels, and works shockingly well as a stand alone. You need a great airplane book or a beach read? This is the book you're looking for.
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