James Rollins

I, for whatever reason, grew up reading Clive Cussler. My favorite was always The Oregon Files, because I’m a sucker for the high tech kinds of things, and a ship with sci-fi engines and a bunch of hidden weaponry worked quite well for my teenage aesthetic.

These days, though, I don’t ever read much Cussler; thanks to his “get someone else to write a book, stamp his name on it for the Brand Recognition” methodology, there’s a great deal of them that I’ve never read. But, between the aforementioned mass-production, and the same plotline getting reused in every book, they just can’t hold my interest. They’re airplane reading—the kind of thing I’ll go for when I’m gonna be mildly oxygen-deprived.

The rest of the time, though, I’m good working through big pile o’ backlogged books. And, when I’ve got the hankering for that Cussler-esque adventure novel, I go for James Rollins.

And that’s the best way I can think of to explain what Rollins’ writing feels like. He’s the upmarket Clive Cussler; there’s fewer of the books, but each one feels like a lot more care went into writing it. Plus, his treatment of female characters, while not perfect, feels a lot better than Cussler tends to manage. They exist to be more than a motivation for the male protagonist; in fact, I’d argue that the male protagonist in “Sandstorm” is a supporting character, as just about everything driving the plot is either Safia’s doing or Cassandra’s. Palmer is largely just along for the ride, which in a way gives it a bit of a “space opera” feel.

That’s my review, then: if you want an action-adventure novel, James Rollins is a solid bet. And hey, may as well start with “Sandstorm”, since it’s how he kicked off his Sigma series.1

  1. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.

“War Hawk,” or, “whoops guess I’ve got ten more new books to read again”

James Rollins and Grant Blackwood
I’m not kidding about that title, by the way; I’ve mentioned that I enjoy this genre of action novel, and Cussler takes a firm second to Rollins in terms of writing quality.1 And apparently Rollins has been writing at a prodigious rate – there’s something like eight new books in his Sigma Force series that I still haven’t read, so that’s all exciting.2
“War Hawk” actually is a Sigma Force novel – or at least, tangentially related. Sticking to my Cussler comparisons, it’s like how the Dirk Pitt and the Oregon Files series take place in a shared universe, and occasionally overlap – the main character in “War Hawk” showed up as a supporting character in some of the earlier Sigma Force books3 and some of the cast of the Sigma Force books are supporting characters in this one. It’s a nice touch, and I think it works well, although the reasons for not involving them more were a bit contrived at times.
Like I said already, Rollins writes higher quality books than Cussler; in the above-linked Cussler review, I make a complaint about a pretty elementary mistake in some of the book’s usage of the Spanish language.4 Meanwhile, in this book, which involves a lot of talk about artificial intelligence (something I know a wee bit about), had only one or two little things for me to pick nits with.5
The moral of the story is, I quite liked the book – more than Piranha, for sure, and enough that I just went downstairs and grabbed one of the other Rollins novels that I own to give it a quick re-read. And hey, how could I not recommend a book where the narration is occasionally from the POV of a dog? Give it a read.6

  1. Now, quantity, it’s hard to beat Cussler on quantity, he’s one of those factory authors like James Patterson. 
  2. Well, exciting until I remember that I have homework and responsibilities to get to, at which point it becomes something between annoying and saddening. 
  3. Ones that I hadn’t read, apparently, so I’m out of order now, which is annoying. 
  4. It’s gotta be pretty elementary if I, with my whopping high school class-level knowledge of Spanish caught it. 
  5. When I get to those moments I try to pay less attention so it doesn’t ruin the rest of the book for me, but with the small amount of attention I was paying, the inaccuracies could still be written off as “an expert on the subject making an inaccurate comparison while explaining to the layperson narrator” so it actually could still work. Nicely done. 
  6. Fun story: this is a different edition of the book than the one I have; I suspect it’s because I’m on American Amazon, and seeing the US edition first; the version I have, I bought at a used-books sale while studying abroad, so it’s still got a €3 price tag on the back.