Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Review: The Devil Colony by James Rollins

Thrillmaster James Rollins’ latest Sigma Force book THE DEVIL COLONY (2 years in the making) is a strange animal. On the one hand it has all the trappings of a Sigma story. Great action, terrific suspense, and insight into some brand new mysteries! On the other hand, it’s longer (480 pages-ish trade sofcover) with a broader scope and more characters that make our Sigma faves further apart from each other and concerns some mysteries that just aren’t as interesting (to me personally) as previous installments.

Let me ‘splain better.

The book is written with the Rollins-style of breakneck pacing, wonderfully fleshed out characters, intriguing plot twists and all the action packed Hollywood-esque sequences you can handle. The short fiction piece that he released on eBook a few weeks ago THE SKELETON KEY does indeed (as professed) blend right into this narrative (at least where Seichan is directly concerned). The mysteries herein, like the founding of America, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, The Masons, Native American peoples, the Book of Mormon, and nanotechnology are all decent plot notions and fit really well into the Sigma style story. This is the classic Rollins Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style and I usually LOVE that to no end. In a number of chapters I just found myself voraciously reading because of pace, not story… if that makes any sense.

There are a larger number of side characters and plots here and I think that’s one thing that threw me a bit. Usually we have a narrative strand where our Sigma Operatives (Gray, Painter, Monk, Kat, Kowalski ect.) are in one or two disparate places and the two teams usually jive information to solve whatever is happening in the main plot. Here we have them spread a little thinner, and while Gray meets up with Monk on a few occasions for some good times and ANY scene with Painter trying to keep Kowalski from blowing everything up is great, the characters are still further apart from one another. With Kat being preggers, it makes perfect sense for her to be the go-to person hanging out at HQ in D.C., but I can’t help missing her in out in the field. I think that with the non-Sigma sideplots things are blown a little too wide and thus things don’t feel quite as tight, and for me the tension suffered for it.

The only other thing I’ll mention is that the whole founding of America thing is being overdone right now (by various authors) and I don’t think it has as many legs to stand on to be as interesting as stuff like the Seven Ancient Wonders, Angkor Wat and Hindu deities, or even Ancient Greek refugees in India. There is something decidedly global about Sigma usually, and bringing it home to the USA actually just makes it feel a little less exciting (except for the time in Iceland, my fave part of the book actually). That said, PLEASE know that if there is one author who does the “founding of America” story RIGHT…it’s Rollins. If I had to pick from all the authors doing it, I’d pick him no question. The issue being that I’ve read a few books (thriller books) about this topic already is all, so I’ve personally been saturated by it. It makes me wish I’d gotten to read THE DEVIL COLONY first, as I think it might have had a better impact had it been the first of those I’d read instead of the 4th. Still, that’s by no means any reason not to pick it up as most of you folk may be down with that as the mystery bit, and you can ignore my inane ramblings.

Don’t get the wrong idea here though, I still really enjoyed this book and it was totally worth the wait. Everything that works, really works well. All the characters are here how you love them, including my fave Kowalski (Kat was my fave till she decided to have a family instead of action-y bits…booo! Haha!) An especially compelling aspect is Gray having to deal with his father advancing Alzheimer’s and his mother’s inability to cope with it on her own. Since the Pierce family has been involved with us for a while, it’s good to see Rollins paying attention to Gray’s deteriorating father and the subsequent affect it has on him. Having Seichan present during that sequence is a nice touch as we continue to bring her into the Sigma fold. I have more and more respect for her and her back-story with every bit more I get about her past. I’m also one of those people who thought Monk should have bit the big one back when we all thought he did, but I can’t complain about him now as his gruff comments and great sense of humor are always welcome, not to mention he really is a character you can’t not love. He is however, no Kowalski. Kowalski is gold incarnate, a scenery-chewing machine whenever he’s in the frame. Having him here playing off Painter’s serious personality is like a great Laurel & Hardy bit. The side characters (previously unknown) like Hank and Kai, and the Japanese scientists ect. are good, but as far as side characters go I think it’s the Military leader (Ryan?) in the Utah mountains and Sigma geologist Chin who steal the sideshow. There is a sequence in the Utah Mountains that has everything I expect from a Rollins thriller action sequence and I loved every last drop of it.

The Guild (Worldwide secret organization), Sigma’s enemy, are fleshed out a little more but still not fully. There are a few huge reveals in the book about them, but no full unveiling yet. I am not going to lie I was expecting a full reveal in this book as they’ve been dangled for a while, but I’m not utterly disappointed by the lack of one simply because still not knowing DOES add a certain tension to the proceedings.

One thing I’d like to note is that the best part of how Rollins writes these books is that he never reveals too much too early. He never depends his final 100 pages on action alone. Instead he keeps the mystery revelations popping off alongside the breathtaking action finale until the very last page, and in a number of cases the very last LINE of the book is a revelation. That’s key to why I buy this man’s books the day they come out. He is literally unmatched in the genre.

Though I had a few issues with THE DEVIL COLONY, overall it was a very enjoyable read, and one that will give you more of that Sigma adventure you’ve gotten used to. If you like the Sigma books at all, then this one will please you to no end, and I’ve actually heard people say it’s their fave of the series so far as well. My two faves are still MAP OF BONES and THE JUDAS STRAIN, because both of those are like the very pinnacle of action-adventure-historical-scientific-thriller for me, and would be welcome in my ten desert island books easily!

I feel pretty safe in saying that Rollins has another winner on his hands here, and he should be very pleased with it. I only have one favour to ask him, please let it not be another 2 years till the next Sigma Op, as there is some cliff-hangery stuff going on at the end of this one and I need to know what happens!

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