Pros: Great pacing; tons of action; fascinating archaeological mystery
Cons: Cardboard villains; occasional difficulties with suspension of disbelief; too-neat climax
Rating: 3 out of 5
Because I often don’t grab “the next hot thing” when it comes out, I tend to end up reading interesting, established authors’ books a bit after they come on the scene, such as reading James Rollins’s Black Order—a relatively recent book—before going back and reading older books such as Deep Fathom. I actually rather enjoy this, as it can give me a less gradual, more dramatic look at how an author’s style has changed over time. Such is certainly the case with Rollins’s work.
This eclipse should have been like any other, but instead it has somehow triggered a massive set of disasters. Earthquakes have sunk entire island chains beneath the Pacific Ocean’s waters. Other, more mysterious things have risen from the ocean’s depths. Air Force Once has vanished over the ocean after an abrupt departure from negotiations with the Chinese, and Jack Kirkland’s boat and submersible have been commandeered by the military to help with the salvage operation. A suspicious explosion leads people to think the Chinese are responsible and soon the world is on the brink of nuclear war, just as Jack is making an extremely unusual discovery beneath the ocean waters that could prove the Chinese had nothing to do with the president’s death—at least, if Jack and his allies aren’t silenced first.
One of the things I most liked about Black Order was the characterization. Rollins showed great skill in painting characters with the briefest of brushstrokes, and his characters were interesting and engaging, from main characters to walk-on parts to even the nastiest of villains. I wanted to know what happened to them, good guys and bad guys alike. In Deep Fathom I can see the beginnings of these skills—the main characters and their allies are intriguing, interesting, and wonderfully fun to read about—but it’s obvious that Rollins has improved since then as well.
Minor characters are drawn in every bit as quickly, but often not as skillfully, making it harder to care about their fates. In particular, however, the villains are extremely black-and-white, one-dimensional eeeevil bad guys, with little to make them compelling beyond their use to drive the plot and threaten the main characters. There’s a brief attempt at giving depth to one of them—David Spangler, an old enemy of Jack’s—by providing a few meager childhood justifications for his depravity, but depth really needs to come from depiction, not background. Not even that much thought is given to the vice president-now-president, who takes unnatural glee in the idea of starting a nuclear war without so much as a flicker of regret or second thought.
As usual, Rollins provides a high-tension thrill ride. It appears he’s always had a great feel for action and pacing, and even on those occasions when I wasn’t 100% on board with the story I was still pulled along and engrossed by it. That’s pretty skillful right there.
The story involves a fascinating archaeological mystery—was there once an entire continent that has now sunk beneath the waves of the Pacific Ocean? If so, what happened to it? How does Easter Island tie into it, and the Bermuda Triangle, and a mysterious pillar of crystal found jutting out of the ocean floor—with writing on it! There’s plenty of science-based techno-thriller plot; I love that Rollins doesn’t write mindless entirely-action-based thrillers. I prefer to use my mind when reading, or at least feel like I am!
However, unlike Black Order, which despite some highly unusual plot points succeeded in causing me to suspend disbelief pretty much entirely, I had a little more trouble with that here. Partially I think that’s because some events—particularly toward the climax of the book—wrapped up a bit too neatly and conveniently (I won’t say any more on that, for fear of giving anything away).
So is this book worth reading? Absolutely! It’s a fun read, and just because Rollins has improved since then hardly means that you shouldn’t go back and read his earlier work if you haven’t already. I’d classify this more as a light beach or airplane read, however, than anything else.
Visit James Rollins’s website for more information about his books.