We’re six weeks away from the release of The Eye of God, by James Rollins, and I’m marking the countdown with reviews of all the previous Sigma Force novels.
This is the third book in a series. This review contains no spoilers for Sandstorm or Map of Bones, aside from giving away the survival of some characters in the series.
Black Order, by James Rollins
#3 in the Sigma Force series
William Morrow, July 2006
426 pages (hardcover)
In Copenhagen, a suspicious bookstore fire propels Commander Gray Pierce on a relentless hunt across four continents — and into a terrifying mystery surrounding horrific experiments once performed in a now-abandoned laboratory buried in a hollowed-out mountain in Poland.
In the mountains of Nepal, in a remote monastery, Buddhist monks inexplicably turn to cannibalism and torture — while Painter Crowe, director of SIGMA Force, begins to show signs of the same baffling, mind-destroying malady… and Lisa Cummings, a dedicated American doctor, becomes the target of a brutal clandestine assassin.
Now only Gray Pierce and SIGMA Force can save a world suddenly in terrible jeopardy. Because a new order is on the rise — an annihilating nightmare growing at the heart of the greatest mystery of all: the origin of life.
I liked Sandstorm.
I really liked Map of Bones.
I loved Black Order.
Even after having just re-read them, one after the other, I’d be hard-pressed to say why. I know the difference… or maybe I should say, I feel the difference… but it’s nothing that’s clearly defineable, nothing that would make sense (or even necessarily be true) for any other reader. One of the joys of reading is that it’s intensely personal, but that’s also one of the frustrations.
For those who are curious to try and see what it is that I see in this book, it’s the last one in the series that I’d say could work well as a stand-alone.
Black Order introduces several new characters, one of whom is pulled from one of Rollins’s early stand-alones. Those who don’t already know Dr. Lisa Cummings from Deep Fathom quickly become familiar with her character, but it’s a special treat for those who’ve read it. I enjoy when authors use some crossover in their books, as it gives the impression that the world is bigger than just what’s going on between these two covers. Preston and Child do this often, with characters from the Pendergast series appearing or referred to in their stand-alones, and vice versa. Similarly, Rollins makes a casual reference to Gray meeting with Cotton Malone, the main character of fellow author Steve Berry’s series… which opens up that universe even more.
But back to the plot.
There are a lot of elements here that all come together in the end, but it can feel a bit scattered in the beginning. You’ve got things happening in four different places — Copenhagen, Nepal, Washington, and South Africa. And the concepts — strange disease, mysterious runes, historic scientific documents, legends and monsters, Nazi secrets — all seem just as scattered. But of course Rollins pulls it all together in the end, in an extremely satisfying way. Along the way, the story explores the duality of science and religion, asking whether humankind is ready for all that we discover.
It all adds up to a book that, despite the absence of one of my favorite characters, is still one of my favorites in the series… and after eight books, that’s saying something.
Next week: The Judas Strain.
In your experience, what defines a 5-star book?