We’re eight weeks from the release of the latest Sigma Force novel by James Rollins. This is one of my absolute favorite series. I always revisit previous books before each new addition, but it’s been a while since I read through the entire series. This time around, I’ll be sharing my thoughts along the way, counting down to the release of The Eye of God. First up: Sandstorm.
Sandstorm, by James Rollins
#1 in the Sigma Force series
William Morrow, June 2004
446 pages (hardcover)
An inexplicable explosion rocks the antiquities collection of a London museum, setting off alarms in clandestine organizations around the world. And now the search for answers is leading Lady Kara Kensington; her friend Safia al-Maaz, the gallery’s brilliant and beautiful curator; and their guide, the international adventurer Omaha Dunn, into a world they never dreamed existed: a lost city buried beneath the Arabian desert. But others are being drawn there as well, some with dark and sinister purposes. And the many perils of a death-defying trek deep into the savage heart of the Arabian Peninsula pale before the nightmare waiting to be unearthed at journey’s end: an ageless and awesome power that could create a utopia… or destroy everything humankind has built over countless millennia.
The book that started it all, Sandstorm introduces us to Sigma Force, Rollins’s group of highly-trained (in both brains and brawn) covert operatives, and the Guild, Sigma’s shadowy and less scrupulous counterpart. But really, it just hints at what Sigma and the Guild will become in future novels.
The best way to describe the book is as a novelized version of an Indiana Jones movie… amusing, since Rollins was later commissioned to write the actual novelization for Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. But he recognizes the influence and gives a nod with one of his characters — the globe-trotting archaeologist Dr. Omaha Dunn.
Unlike Indy, though, Omaha isn’t our hero, or at least not the only one. If there’s a main character, I’d say that it’s Safia al-Maaz, an accomplished archaeologist in her own right, but one who’s taken a step back from field work because of personal reasons which become clear as her history is revealed. The expedition is financed by Kara Kensington, who starts off portrayed as a wealthy industrialist with incredible power and influence, the kind of person who sweeps in and expects her every demand to be met, but Rollins quickly humanizes her and gives her a driving passion of her own.
This trio is at the heart of the story, and the book really could have been just about their group and the mysteries they uncover. But because of the stakes involved, both Sigma and the Guild are drawn into the search as well.
What I found myself particularly impressed with on re-reading is that all of the characters — and we do have quite a cast — are very well drawn. Some of the secondary characters aren’t quite as developed (this is, first and foremost, an adventure story; there simply isn’t enough time to fully get to know everyone), but you still get a pretty clear picture of all of them, and they all make an impression as people, rather than a list of stock characters whose only purpose is to keep the story moving.
There is a bit of a supernatural element at play here. Though it’s all given a good dose of scientific techno-babble, it really does help if you’re open to the unexplained… if not in real life, at least in your reading (even if it does take place in our own world). But if you’re interested in the fact behind the fiction, Rollins always ends his books with some explanation of his real-life inspiration.
Sandstorm is probably not the strongest of the Sigma novels, and it sort of stands apart from the other books; the “next generation” of the series (and Sigma itself) really starts with Map of Bones. So, is this one worth reading? Absolutely. Is it necessary to read it first? Well, if you’re that rare breed of reader who doesn’t have to read a series in order, Map of Bones might be a better introduction.
But more on that one next week.
Have you read any James Rollins books? If so, which one is your favorite? And a question for everyone: do you always read a series in order, or will you pick and choose if the stories stand alone?