"Deep Fathom" by James Rollins

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.

The Story

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.

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3 comments on “"Deep Fathom" by James Rollins
  1. Cereal Girl says:

    Thank you for the comment on my blog. I’m checking out your review log for the first time and I must say it’s very professional and organized. I’m sure I’ll be back.

    In the meantime, your reply has me wondering: do either of you write fiction as well? With a long list of writing book reviews on your site, I’m hoping the answer is yes.

    I recently reviewed a teen fantasy novel called Breakfast with the Ones You Love by Eliot Fintushel. If you haven’t read it, it’s ideal review fodder because the premise is ambitious and a little ‘out-there.’ Each reader will have to decide whether it hangs together. I loved it, BTW, but I’m also a little ‘out-there.”

    Glad I found you so thanks again for the comment.

    Cereal Girl

  2. heather says:

    Hi Cereal Girl! Thank you for the kind words—book reviewing is something I and my husband really enjoy, so we try to put a lot of care into it.

    As for our own writing, we’ve both done various things—Jeffrey has so far only written for himself (and the website of course) and not attempted to have anything published, but I particularly love his poetry. I’ve had a handful of short stories and poems published in various venues, although it’s been a while since I wrote in either format; I also used to work freelance for the tabletop gaming industry, so I’ve co-authored more than 10 books there, parts of which involved fiction. Of late I’ve kind of found my niche doing things like book reviews and T-shirt designs, however, so here I am. 🙂

    That sounds like an interesting book—I’ll have to go read your review! Thank you so much for dropping by.


  3. Deep Quotes says:

    This book of Rollin’s seems really interesting. Thanks a lot for the review.

2 Pings/Trackbacks for ""Deep Fathom" by James Rollins"
  1. […] unrelated news, the Deep Fathom Review is up. Deep Fathom wasn’t as good as Rollins’s Black Order, and definitely was more of […]

  2. […] Deep Fathom, one of Rollins’s early books, was definitely a light beach read. Although I enjoyed it, its cardboard eeeevil villains, somewhat trite dialogue, and too-neat climax kept it from lingering in the mind. Black Order, which came after today’s Sandstorm, is a very compelling novel that truly shows how much Rollins has improved in skill and style over the past few years. […]

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