Hello there, book review blogoshere! Today I am launching my own little word-filled corner of the internet dedicated to my thoughts on books and stories. Rather than blather on about myself, I will jump straight into the review and direct readers to my introduction and review standards pages if they want to know more about this blog.
This review was originally posted on GoodReads in an abridged form.
Title: The Eye of God
Author: James Rollins
Star Rating: * * *
Genre: “Science/Historical” Thriller
The Eye of God is James Rollins’ most recent Sigma Force novel, and it delivers an exciting science/historical thriller story based on theories about dark energy and the history of Genghis Khan. What exactly makes a science thriller different from sci-fi? Well, to me at least, science thrillers are books that use science without worrying too much about accuracy. Science is a plot device, and interesting theories are played with in ways that don’t really hold up to much empirical scrutiny. I love hard sci-fi, where the science is a carefully used tool that is meant to reflect real possibilities. Thrillers, on the other hand, grab some of the most recent scientific concepts and go to town. Thus, while I separate these types of books out from traditional sci-fi, they are a massive guilty pleasure of mine. Jumping off of tiny bits of truth, the authors who write in this genre can spin some really fun tales.
James Rollins’ Sigma Force series has been one of my favourite series in this genre to date. It details the adventures of a secret US agency that saves the world through their knowledge of science and history. The characters travel the world to exotic locations, uncovering ancient conspiracies, and preventing the apocalypse on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, The Eye of God was not one of the stronger books of the series. While I would still give it a solid three stars as I quite enjoyed reading it, the novel suffers from some plot and character issues that made it a little less entertaining than previous Sigma Force editions.
Synopsis (The following contains spoilers!)
The book begins with the explosion of a satellite being used to study a comet pulsating with dark energy. As the satellite plummets towards Earth, it transmits an image of the eastern seaboard of the United States in flames back to the scientists working on the project. Painter Crowe is in the audience, and is ordered to retrieve the remnants of the satellite from Mongolia so that the technology will not fall into enemy hands, and to see if it reveals any further information about this terrifying photo.
Painter sends Monk and two new characters, Dr. Jada Shaw and Duncan Wren, on this mission. Shaw is an astrophysicist who fulfils the confused, scared, but plucky civilian role. She is one of the world’s foremost experts on dark energy, and predicts that the image sent by the falling satellite was likely showing a possible future that could occur in next four days. Duncan Wren is a new Sigma agent who has magnets embedded in his fingertips that allow him to feel electromagnetic fields (a trait that proves to be extremely useful later in the book when it is discovered that matter influenced by dark energy gives off unique electromagnetic pulses). It will be interesting to see if these characters return in future Sigma novels, or if they are tied too heavily into the plot needs of this book (and if they come back while Tracker and Kane are AWOL, I will be so sad! I didn’t find Shaw and Wren to be nearly as interesting or compelling, mostly due to the fact that their characters seemed too scripted for this exact plot).
However, before this Sigma team takes off to retrieve the satellite, Vigor and Rachel from the Vatican contact the secret organisation to announce that they have information concerning an ancient relic that foretells the destruction of the planet in the next four days. Monk, Shaw, and Wren meet up with these two in the Aral Sea, meeting a colleague of Vigor’s who has been researching these relics and their connections to Genghis Khan and the end of the world for the past decade. When they discover another relic leading them towards the tomb of this great conqueror, they are betrayed by the Clan of the Blue Wolf, a group of nationalistic Mongolian men who will stop at nothing in their attempt to gain power and glory for their country and themselves.
In the meantime, Gray and Seichan are in Macau trying to track down her mother after the revelations about her family in Bloodline. However, they are betrayed by their source, and Seichan is captured by one of the major mob bosses of the area. Gray tracks down Seichan’s mother, and together they have to travel to North Korea to save the kidnapped assassin.
In the final part of the book, both teams arrive in Mongolia in an attempt to find the missing relic that is the key to saving the world. Monk, Shaw, and Wren track down the pieces of the broken satellite at the bottom of a lake in the mountains, and retrieve one of the internal components that has become infused with dark energy. They are attacked by the Clan of Blue Wolves, but manage to defeat this group in order to hurry and meet Gray and his team at the final location pointed to by Genghis Khan’s ancient relic map. However, before she escaped, the North Koreans planted a tracking device on Seichan, and they surprise both teams in the remote village where the final tomb is located. The Sigma agents and their allies struggle to survive this encounter, and to get the satellite piece to the tomb in order to neutralise the dark energy that is drawing a deadly asteroid to Earth in the exciting climax of this book.
The Good – What did you read this book for?
There’s a guy with magnets in his hands and dark energy can foretell the future. What else do you need? As with all Sigma Force novels, Rollins takes cutting edge scientific concepts and has fun with them. He imagines big, earth-shattering, what-ifs, and then sends his characters off to save the day in exotic locations that sound like amazing places to visit (when they aren’t ground zero for the apocalypse that is).
In particular, it was great to see a full ensemble cast book that gave some of the characters other than Gray and Seichan a chance to show readers that they still kick ass. Two new characters were introduced, and I appreciated the addition of Dr. Jada Shaw, a strong, smart, and capable woman who wasn’t defined by just her sexuality and ability to beat things up.
I read the Sigma Force novels because they are exciting, suspenseful, sometimes silly, but always entertaining. They are a great, relaxing read when you just want to let your mind indulge in something fun and, despite its flaws, The Eye of God kept me amused and sated my science-thriller craving. A definite recommend for genre-lovers of this type, particularly for a lazy summer day.
The Bad and the Ugly – What Could Have Gone Better
I generally don’t read thriller novels for their accurate and well-rounded portrayal of women. Not that I wouldn’t prefer to see better representations of women, it’s just that they tend to be few and far between in this genre which has been traditionally marketed towards men. Sigma Force has bothered me less than some since women tend to be shown as extremely capable and talented individuals. However, it takes more than a refutation of the damsel in distress plotline to make a book women-positive, and this particular series tends to fall into the trap of the “fucking fuck toy” trope. Women are strong, bad-ass, and very much heterosexual male eye candy. Now, being sexy isn’t a bad thing, but when the focus of the book keeps shifting to just how beautiful that female agent’s body is, with in-depth discussions of her curves and sensuality, then you have a problem because the character ends up being less a person than something that men can fantasize about. And, unfortunately, objectified fantasies are a lot less interesting to read about than fully realised characters.
Seichan, a character who has been featured heavily in the past several Sigma Force novels, has succumbed to this problem. She is a fearsome, sexy, cold, and calculating Eurasian lady who is also incredibly boring. Seichan has become the definition of the trope of the sexy assassin with a heart of gold who must learn to overcome her difficult life in order to love and cherish other human beings again (in specific, love and cherish our male lead). Rollins has done little to differentiate her from the many other characters like this that have popped up in thrillers before. While Bloodline was supposed to inject fresh ideas in her plotlines, the search for her mother and subsequent escape from North Korea did little to expand upon her character. By the end of the book, she does decide to take a leap of faith and begin a relationship with Gray, but her reunion with her mother is largely emotionless, and her attempts at dealing with this fact are fairly weak as well. Before she was part of the team, she seemed a lot more dangerous and interesting, but now that she is a feature character, I expect more growth and fewer descriptions of her breasts.
2. North Korea
At the start of the novel, the powers that be stress that the crashed satellite must be picked up as soon as possible because of the danger of China or Russia finding and exploiting this new and top secret military technology. However, despite this danger, the two countries are really not mentioned again. Instead, one of the big baddies in The Eye of God is represented by North Korea. While in Macau searching for her mother, Seichan is captured by a mob boss and sold to North Korea. Once there, she escapes with the help of Gray, and North Korea pursues her all the way to Mongolia where they create quite a lot of conflict and devastation at the climax of the book. However, Rollins never really gives his readers a reason as to why North Korea would want Seichan so badly, nor why they would risk an assault on an American group on foreign soil just to get her back (other than to imply that North Korea is filled with mostly crazy megalomaniac types that can’t stand to lose). The appearance of this enemy in Mongolia is jarring, and feels like an unnecessary attempt to make the end of the book more exciting. Utilising Russia or China as the central villain would have made more sense as they probably would have reason to want both Seichan (since she seems to have made an enemy of a good number of states) and the military technology, and they had already been introduced in the plot.
3. The Theme of Death
Part of The Eye of God’s thematic concepts centered on life and death. In this book, readers discover that Vigor, a reoccurring character throughout the series, has terminal cancer. By the end of the book, both he and Rachel have died (Vigor because he sacrifices himself to save the world, and Rachel because she was murdered by the North Koreans). Vigor’s trials, in particular, were supposed to be the catalyst for characters (particularly Seichan) to think about death and the importance of living when one has the chance. However, the Sigma Force novels are no strangers to the death of characters, even major ones (even if some of them do come back. I’m looking at you, Monk!). While I did enjoy the idea of quantum consciousness and how Rollins’ utilised this concept right at the end of the novel, I didn’t feel as if either Vigor’s or Rachel’s deaths were particularly devastating, inspiring, or even useful for future plots. This book would have been stronger had it focused more on relationships and personal connections as it hinted at with Seichan and her mother, as well as with Rachel and her uncle. The themes of death and life have been dealt with by Rollins already in other books in a much more satisfactory way, making The Eye of God seem like an unnecessary retread of material already covered.
All in all, this was a fun read as the Sigma Force novels tend to be, but I hope that the next addition to the series offers some better characterisation and thematic exploration.