"The Doomsday Key," James Rollins

Pros: Over-the-top thrill-ride through intense characters, epic legends, and plenty of deadly action
Cons: Over the top; both of the main female leads needing to be “saved” by the guy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Harper-Collins


The Doomsday Key is one of James Rollins’s Sigma Force novels. You don’t have to have read them all to enjoy one of the series, but it helps. Sigma Force is a special unit within the US government that deals with deadly, often complex threats, typically based in both science and history. The Sigma Force novels are for people who enjoy plenty of wild action—bombs going off, bullets flying, sex, romance; not to mention the exploration of some of the great mysteries of history, such as the pyramids, Merlin, religious miracles, prophecies of doom and destruction, Atlantis, etc. Add on top of that a hefty dose of cutting-edge science—in this case the genetic engineering of crops—and you’ve got a heady mix that some will find too over-the-top while others revel in the fun of it.

In The Doomsday Key, Commander Gray Pierce receives word from his ex, Rachel, that her beloved uncle, a renowned archaeologist and historian, is in a coma after being present at the scene of a supposed terrorist attack. Rachel, however, has in her possession a mysterious artifact that seems tied to the attack, and to another, otherwise unrelated, attack on another continent entirely. In Africa, the corporation Viatus is running experiments on genetically engineered corn. A terrorist attack wipes out the crop and all of the data, except for several files passed on by a prominent senator’s son. Soon Sigma Force finds itself struggling to figure out how Viatus, the corn, and a mummified finger fit together—and how they all tie back to a legendary artifact called the Domesday Book. It doesn’t take long to figure out that a whole lot of lives may be in danger, and that time is short. Gray and his teammates embark on a wild trip through historical site after historical site, determined to find an item known only as the Doomsday Key.


Rollins writes guilty-pleasure adventure books. They’re totally over the top, and they have something of a case of kitchen-sink-itis (i.e., he throws everything into his series but the kitchen sink). However, this doesn’t keep his novels from being a whole lot of fun. He ties all those wild historical references and theories together quite skillfully (and he’s gotten noticeably better at it over time). Let’s face it—it’s fun to read about fascinating religious theories, scary (or awesome) new scientific developments, and dangerous conspiracies. His character development in particular has become much more skillful over time. My only mild annoyance there, in this case, was that while yes, his female characters are strong, it’s kind of annoying to have both major female leads want or need the male lead to “save” them in some manner.

There’s plenty of material here for folks who’ve gotten attached to Painter Crowe, Monk, Gray, and all of their compatriots. Lisa’s off-stage, but Kat puts in a handful of appearances, and Rachel and Seichan are present throughout most of the book. We get a much better look at the workings of the secretive Guild, and things seem to be leading up to an even more major confrontation with them in future books. New characters, such as the senator and Ivar Karlsen (Viatus’s CEO) lend quite a bit of interest to the story as well. And the science… well, I don’t want to give any of that away, but it’s fascinating and chilling.

Rollins includes a write-up at the end detailing which bits of history and science in the book he took from real-world events and theories, and which he made up himself. If anything, I find this to be one of the most fascinating parts of the book. Sometimes the reality of things can be just as wacky and weird as the fiction.

This is one of the better Rollins books I’ve read, and it certainly grabbed hold of me and kept me entertained with its wild theories and conspiracies and its plentiful explosions. If that sounds like fun to you, then I recommend it!

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