"Sandstorm," by James Rollins

Pros: Great pacing; tons of action; fascinating mystery; great characters
Cons: Villains without a lot of depth; bits of trite material; the word ‘mumbled’
Rating: 4 out of 5

Deep Fathom, one of Rollins’s early books, was definitely a light beach read. Although I enjoyed it, its cardboard eeeevil villains, trite dialogue, and too-neat climax kept it from lingering in the mind. Black Order, which came after today’s Sandstorm, is a compelling novel that highlights how much Rollins has improved in skill and style over the past few years. Sandstorm is particularly interesting as an intermediate step.


Strange things are afoot at a British Museum. Ball lightning somehow causes an old Arabian statue to explode, killing a man and ruining a priceless collection of antiquities—yet unearthing another discovery in the gallery itself that no one could have imagined. That discovery will send an unlikely collection of characters in search of the lost city of Ubar, an ancient queen’s bequest, and a source of perhaps ultimate power. Yet many obstacles stand between them and their goal. Shadowy agents seek the same source of power and will stop at nothing to obtain it. Someone, somewhere, has betrayed them, and they don’t know who did it or how. And a mysterious group of Arabian women with seemingly mystical powers dog their heels at every turn—helping, or hindering?


This is another of Rollins’s Sigma Force novels, though I’ve found you don’t need to read them in the order they were published in to be able to relate to the characters. As in Black Order he’s done a great job of painting in the characters such that you can care about and relate to them in short order. He juggles a vast canvas of names and faces without ever allowing them to blend one into another. His villains are definitely more interesting here than in Deep Fathom; they have more than one note to them (or at least, the major one does), although I wouldn’t call them three-dimensional.

The science in this book borders on the edge of mysticism at times, but Rollins does his best to put forward possible scientific explanations for everything; one thing he includes at the end that I appreciate and enjoy reading is a brief section detailing the reality behind the theories he works with in his book (something he also included in Black Order but not in Deep Fathom). Since he tends to play with the outer reaches of scientific theory and definitely with some “out there” material, this is a nifty bit of reference to have.

I enjoy Rollins’s writing. Sandstorm definitely has better (i.e. less trite) dialogue than Deep Fathom—again, you can see how he’s improved over time, which is something that fascinates me as a reviewer. Some of the characters stuck with me even after I finished reading, and there are some truly delightful turns of phrase in this book. One of Rollins’s greatest talents, as always, is his pacing; I got sucked into the plot quite quickly.

I only have one major request for Rollins: Please, please, in the name of all that’s holy, set your word processor to ferret out each and every use of the word ‘mumbled’ and force you to replace 99% of them in future books. I was about ready to scream halfway through the book because that word showed up absolutely everywhere. Could someone please just mutter for once? Or murmur? Or… anything?!

Ahem. I’m fine now. Really.

Anyway, apart from all the mumbling this is a fun book and well worth the price of admission. Consider it good airplane reading.

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8 comments on “"Sandstorm," by James Rollins
  1. SciFiChick says:

    This is one that I still haven’t finished. It was pretty exciting, but for some reason I put it down and never picked it back up. I can still remember everything that happened (and it’s probably been over a year), so I need to start reading it again soon.

  2. heather says:

    Yeah, that happens to me sometimes too. I’m getting better about it, though! I do think it’s worth finishing if you were enjoying it already; it definitely ratchets up the story and tension as it goes.

  3. Callista says:

    Hey there. Thanks for adding me to your blogroll. I saw your comment on musings of a bookish kitty about not being sure about doing challenges. I’m usually the same way. Even with my books at home that are waiting to be read, I often intend to read a certain one after another but then end up reading something else entirely. But hey, it’s no big deal if you don’t finish the challenge or don’t finish in time, it’s just for fun anyway. Just a thought.

  4. heather says:

    Well I’ll have to give it some thought, then! 🙂 And you’re welcome on the blogroll—I love having access to more book reviews!

  5. Kailana says:

    Like Scifichick I put this book down and was never sure if I would get around to finishing it, but I did just recently and I am very happy that I did! It turned out really good by the end and one of the characters in this book goes on to be one of the main characters in his newest books: The Black Order and Judas Strain.

  6. heather says:

    Kailana: Thanks for another viewpoint—I always like hearing what other folks thought too. I have to admit, one of the things I’ve had the most fun with in the three Rollins books I’ve read so far is watching his writing style evolve. I have to give him credit—‘Deep Fathom’ had some definite flaws, but I saw a big improvement in the related skills between that and ‘Sandstorm’ and an even bigger improvement by ‘Black Order.’ Any writer who works that hard to polish his skills is one I’m happy to keep an eye on! I’m looking forward to reading ‘Judas Strain.’

  7. Kailana says:

    oops, for some reason I thought I replied to your post on Deep Fathom. Deep Fathom is the book that one of the characters goes on to be in later books. My mistake! Have you ever read Amazonia? That’s my favourite Rollins book, but one of his very early ones.

  8. heather says:

    Kailana: No, I haven’t read that one. I’m sort of picking his books up one at a time when I get the chance, and I only recently discovered them. I think I have most of them on my Amazon wishlist though. 😀

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