Saturday, July 20, 2013

“The date for the end of the world… it’s in four days.”

The Eye of God
by James Rollins

The quote above is the final sentence of the first chapter of James Rollins’ latest Sigma thriller, The Eye of God. In other words, it’s just another low-stakes drama from this master of disaster. This time around, the prologue opens in AD 453 with the death of Attila the Hun. From there, we quickly move to present-day Rome, with our old friends Vigor and Rachel. (Already, things are off to a good start.) Vigor is consulting with his niece about a mysterious package he’s just received from an old friend—a priest declared dead more than a decade prior. The package contains an artifact, a human skull etched with Jewish Aramaic. “I believe this relic is an example of early Talmudic magic practiced by Babylonian Jews.” It also contains a book bound in human skin. And these artifacts are pointing towards a coming apocalypse with a very imminent date.

Meanwhile… At an air force base in California, “something’s gone wrong.” So says Sigma’s Painter Crowe, who happens to be in attendance. A special camera has been tracking a comet’s progress through space, trying to collect “proof that the comet was shedding or disturbing dark energy in its wake.” After a few pages of fairly sexy physics talk, remote data is retrieved: “It displayed a satellite view of the eastern seaboard of the United States, the photo taken as the satellite blazed a trail across the sky. It was detailed enough to make out the major coastal metropolises. Boston, New York City, Washington, D.C. Every city lay in a smoldering ruin.” So, you’ve got your ancient prophecies lining up disturbingly with your weird space-time science anomaly prophesies. Ladies and gentlemen, we are off to the races!

Now, I’ve reviewed a lot of Rollins’ novels in the past decade plus, and the reviews are beginning to feel a bit redundant only because Mr. Rollins is so consistent with the strengths of his novels. So please bear with me as I go over the major bullet points:
  • I read a lot of this type of science/adventure thriller and I don’t think there’s another writer out there that can touch Rollins for the complexity of the tales he weaves—and I mean that in an entirely positive way. Above I alluded to Attila the Hun, the Roman Catholic Church, advanced physics, and Jewish mysticism. That is merely the tip of the iceberg. Throw into the mix Genghis Khan, the world’s only freshwater seal, exotic locales spanning the globe, magnetic fingertips (So freakin’ cool!), St. Thomas, multiverses, and the question, “Could the ancient Chinese have had knowledge of events described in the book of Genesis?” In every book, Rollins weaves an astonishing number of incredibly diverse, incredibly cool elements into one cohesive tale. And usually it hangs together so well, I wonder if he hasn’t stumbled onto some secrets of the universe.
  • Again, I must commend the author on his strong female characters. I don’t think readers are ever disappointed when Rachel and Seichan are both a part of the mix. The Eye of God introduces several noteworthy new female characters as well. (And for those of you waiting for something to happen with Gray… Your wait is over.)
  • How many different times and ways can I express my love of Kowalski? This time around he
    enters with the line, “Why does that duck keep looking at me?” Which is just so Kowalski. I thought he was funnier than ever in this book. I want to quote all his best lines, but I’ll refrain.
  • Easter eggs! There are Easter eggs in this novel that refer to a non-Sigma book in the Rollins-verse. It’s not a character this time around. Really, really fun!
  • Not just one super-cool author’s note at the end describing what’s fact and what’s fiction, this time there are several of them.
Now, this is the point where I usually kvetch about a bunch of nit-picky stuff, but I don’t really have any significant complaints this time around. Once I was going to ding him on a plot element being too outlandish, but as he often does, he followed it up with enough science that I was willing to continue suspending my disbelief. No, this is a strong novel in the long-running Sigma series. The plot is fascinating, and I hope it goes without saying that it moves at a lightning pace. Furthermore, there are significant developments among the major players. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

I honestly don’t know how long James Rollins can possibly come up with these convoluted tales he spins. Surely he’s written about every single interesting thing in the universe by now? But apparently not. As long as he keeps writing them, I’m going to keep reading them!

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