Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Review: Bloodline by James Rollins (A Sigma Force Novel)

Galilee, 1025. Infiltrating an ancient citadel, a Templar knight uncovers a holy treasure long hidden within the fortress's labyrinth: the Bachal Isu - the staff of Jesus Christ - a priceless icon that holds a mysterious and terrifying power that promises to change humankind for ever.

A millennium later, Somali pirates hijack a yacht off the coast of the Horn of Africa, kidnapping a young pregnant American woman. Commander Gray Pierce is enlisted for a covert rescue mission into the African jungle. The woman is no rich tourist: she's Amanda Gant-Bennett, daughter of the U.S. president.

Suspicious that the kidnapping masks a far more nefarious plot, Gray must confront a shadowy cabal which has been manipulating events throughout history... and now challenges the current presidency.

Halfway around the world, a firebombing at a fertility clinic in South Carolina exposes a conspiracy that goes back centuries... a scheme that lies within our genetic code. With time against them, SIGMA must race to save an innocent unborn baby whose very existence raises questions about the nature of humanity, asking:

Could you live forever?

Would you live forever?

I have loved James Rollins' Sigma Force novels ever since I made the impulse purchase of Map of Bones when I saw it in a Waterstones 3 for 2 offer back some years ago. On finishing it I immediately went out and bought a copy of its predecessor, Sandstorm, and since then I have religiously bought each new release as it has come out in hardback. However, I started slipping behind with the series some time ago due to my blogging commitments, and the last two books in the series, The Doomsday Key and The Devil Colony, have sat unread on my shelves since they were bought. With the eighth book, Bloodline, scheduled for a 2nd August release, I decided back in June that I would treat myself and make sure I was back on track ready for the release of Bloodline, and I having finished The Devil Colony a few weeks ago I have been waiting more than a little impatiently ever since. Imagine my joy this morning when I wandered into my local supermarket to find it was on the shelves a couple of days early, and it being the school summer holidays I had the luxury of being able to read it in one day.

If you love action thrillers then you are probably already a huge fan of the Sigma Force novels. If you haven't yet read them, or like I was are slightly behind in the series, then you may want to stop reading this review now as there may be spoilers of previous books. If you are up-to-date and are really looking forward to reading Bloodline then you are in for a treat - this is possibly the best Sigma Force novel to date. This is a pretty incredible feat - I could list a host of other writers of similar style thrillers whose output over a series is inconsistent but somehow Rollins just keeps on raising that bar and leaves that competition standing.

The Devil Colony ended with a pretty big revelation, with Painter Crowe discovering that the family at the heart of the Guild was that of the President of the USA himself. Whether he is aware of his family's complicity or not we will find out in Bloodline, a book that also delivers answers to a number of guild-related questions that have been accumulating over previous instalments. Rollins also left one of his main characters, Gray Pierce, mourning the murder of his mother, her life taken by a Guild bomb meant for him. Bloodline picks up a short while after the events of The Devil Colony, and hits the ground running from the very start.

Many of the previous Sigma Force novels have focused on the team trying to track down some kind of artefact that must be kept from falling into the wrong hands at all cost. These artefacts have generally had some kind of scientific explanation behind their respective powers, hence the involvement of Sigma (for those of you new to the series, the key members of Sigma tend to be ex-special forces retrained in one or more branches of modern science). Naturally, the wrong hands in question belong to the Guild. However, in Bloodline the quest is something far more human - the kidnapped daughter of the US President, who had fled to the Seychelles to give birth to her child after receiving a mysterious warning from an anonymous source. Sigma Force are tasked with locating and retrieving her before her pirate kidnappers realise that they have more than just a random american holidaymaker in their clutches.

Naturally, this being a Sigma Force novel, there is much more to this than a simple act of piracy, and said pirates are mercenaries working for, you guessed it, the Guild. This time, the shadowy organisation are working to discover the secrets of immortality and the First Daughter's unborn child could be the key. With Sigma hot on the Guild's heels the action moves from Africa to Dubai, whilst other members of the Force are risking their lives back in the US. Rollins uses these various plot threads to keep his readers turning pages as fast as they can as they seek to discover the resolutions to the various cliffs he leaves his players hanging from at the end of a chapter, as the focus then jumps to characters on the other side of the world. I'm glad I had the luxury of a whole day to read this as I'm not sure I would have been able to sleep had I needed to put the book down to go to sleep.

With Monk deciding to hand up his Sigma boots to focus on fatherhood at the end of the last book, Bloodline was the perfect opportunity for Rollins to introduce new characters, and also to bring a couple of recently lesser-used characters into the action. Lisa Cummings and Kat Bryant are taken away from their desk jobs to go out into the field as they try to infiltrate the fertility clinic that treated Amanda Gant, the president's daughter. Their subsequent discoveries are not for the squeamish, and Rollins builds them into a story which leaves us wondering whether her may have decided it is time to retire one of his main characters for good. These suspicions are added to be the introduction of Tucker Wayne, a former army captain, and his military war dog. Both of these characters add a completely new dimension to this Sigma Force story, helping to make the story seem fresher than ever.

This being a James Rollins book, much of the technological and scientific themes that are explored in the story are rooted in fact, which James Rollins happily discusses both at the beginning and end of the story. This is an element I have always loved about his stories, making them far more real than those we get from some other authors. I hate to think how much time James Rollins must spend on researching his books, and where he decides he has enough source material and it is time to start writing. With at least one book being published each year, the man must be some kind of writing machine.

If you are a Rollins fan then you need to read this now - there are more revelations than in any of his previous books, and more twists than you can shake a stick at. I am already looking forward to his next Sigma Force book, although I know I have quite a wait on my hands.

Bloodline is published by Orion in the UK, and is due to be released on 2nd August.