We’re five 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 fourth book in a series. This review contains no spoilers for previous books, aside from giving away the survival of some of the characters in the series.
The Judas Strain, by James Rollins
#4 in the Sigma Force series
William Morrow, July 2007
450 pages (hardcover)
From the depths of the Indian Ocean, a horrific plague has arisen to devastate humankind—unknown, unstoppable… and merely a harbinger of the doom that is to follow.
Operatives of the shadowy covert organization SIGMA Force, Dr. Lisa Cummings and Monk Kokkalis search for answers to the bizarre affliction aboard a cruise liner transformed into a makeshift hospital. But a sudden and savage attack by terrorist hijackers turns the mercy ship into a floating bio-weapons lab.
Time is an enemy as a worldwide pandemic grows rapidly out of control. As the seconds tick closer to doomsday, SIGMA’s commander, Gray Pierce, must join forces with a beautiful assassin who tried to kill him — following the trail of the most fabled explorer in history into the terrifying heart of an astonishing mystery buried deep in antiquity and in humanity’s genetic code.
This has a similar feel to Map of Bones, partly because we’re back to the treasure hunt format, and partly because it brings back a lot of the same supporting characters that were absent in Black Order. Without reading the previous books in the series (Map of Bones at the very least) you’ll miss out on many of the character interactions that this book builds upon, particularly between Gray and the mysterious Seichan.
Like the last book, Rollins takes an opportunity to introduce another character from a stand-alone novel; this time it’s Joe Kowalski from Ice Hunt. Despite the fact that Ice Hunt is one of my favorite pre-Sigma novels, Kowalski didn’t actually leave much of an impression on me. In that book, he’s a somewhat generic military guy. Here, however, he can really shine, and the beauty of it is that he fits into this series so well because of the fact that he doesn’t fit in.
Kowalski’s been somewhat adopted by Sigma (the story of how he meets up with a Sigma operative is told in “Kowalski’s in Love,” a short story in ITW’s first Thriller anthology — check it out from your local library), but unlike the typical operative, trained in both combat and a scientific discipline, Kowalski is all muscle. He sees things very differently from his genius-level associates, and often his simplistic observations are key to unraveling the puzzle.
There are three main storylines, and I thought the one featuring Gray and his companions retracing the historic trail was the most fun. The adventures out on the Indian Ocean — with Lisa and the other scientists in a struggle between not wanting to cooperate with their captors but still wanting to find a cure for the plague — are exciting, but I still found myself wanting to return to Gray’s story. The third sub-plot… is an intense one. One intimately tied to the first. That’s all I’ll say about that.
Overall The Judas Strain is a fun book (I do love my killer pandemic stories), and it sets up some interesting future events.
Next week: The Last Oracle.
How do you know when a series you’re reading has really hit its stride?