The third instalment of the scientific-military action/adventure series, Sigma Force, called Black Order written by James Rollins, was so disappointing. This was not a re-read for me, unlike the first two books. Please note that this review will be, as always, spoiler-free.
In book number three, our group returns to investigate a mysterious plague-like disease that is sweeping it’s way across the villages and temples surrounding Mount Everest. The disease also causes some very intense episodes of psychotic behaviour that cause the infected to murder relentlessly. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, a powerful piece of Nazi technology is discovered, and one of the world’s wealthiest families finally make their public appearance, leading to devastating discoveries.
My biggest issue with this novel was that it never felt like it was moving forward until the last two-hundred pages. Even then, it was super rushed and abrupt in execution. I felt that the story was starting to run out of pages and needed to immediately change its course of action in regards to character placement and story progression.
In the very beginning we get a flashback from World War II era Germany, but this never really plays a big part in the overall story. The Prologue came off as being wholly unnecessary when you look at the bigger picture. I bring this up first and foremost because this chapter sets up the mood and atmosphere for the entire book. Upon reading the Prologue, you end up with these expectations of a jaw-dropping story that will be laced in Nazi technology and crazy ass revelations, but it never arrives.
In the first two books of the series, Sigma Force goes from one part of the world to the next hunting down clues that will lead to new information and loot. In Black Order, it’s 600-pages of them chasing down material regarding one item and one overarching issue. Normally, I wouldn’t mind such a change in format. When you have a series that spans thirteen books, you have to learn to get creative. But the execution of this narrative was so terrible that it left me wanting so much more knowledge and fresh new action scenes than was given.
The device that Sigma Force is hunting is from World War II and all of the data that they uncover in regards to it just adds on to the previous data acquired. It became wholeheartedly repetitive as it continued to blazingly emphasise how the data affects what we already know, and that it’s a dangerous, gargantuan risk to the world. The science is explained to people who are supposed to be elite specialists in very simple, Layman’s terms. Again, normally this wouldn’t bother me too much. But for a third instalment with characters who are capable of comprehending this intellectual level of stuff, it just didn’t fit. You could argue that it was done for the reader, however. It wasn’t written like this in the first two novels, where it would have been more applicable, and it detracts from the reliability of our characters’ wiles.
For the first 300-pages to 400-pages, the foundation for the finale is being laid out. That’s more than half of the book’s total length! It should not take 400-pages to build a plot infrastructure, especially if that finale doesn’t need rely on it all. Remember earlier how I mentioned that the last quarter felt very abrupt? When we hit the four-fifty to five hundred mark, one of our characters is magically poofed from one corner of the world to another. There was very little to no context on how he got there. In the process of his travelling, he also learned key information that would help him assist his teammates, with no explanation. Maybe he squeezed it out of the clouds, I don’t know.
Lastly, and this probably irked me the most out of everything else, it was agonisingly predictable. The novel followed every trope of the genre that you could think of. Originally, the series had a few tropes here and there, but it always had some element of a twist to it to maintain suspense and avoid monotony. The predictability of Black Order severely detracted from any sense of tension that could have existed. I found myself to be utterly bored and unimpressed with the arrival of each trope.
The only redeeming quality of Black Order was the lore used to create it. I did find the technology they discovered and the physics behind it to be immensely fascinating. The history and the understanding of how it works and what makes it work is the type of science that I attract to with an unnatural hunger. But I couldn’t appreciate anything beyond that.
Overall, I don’t recommend the Black Order, but I do believe that its contents may surface later on in the series. I have started reading the fourth instalment, The Judas Strain, which already feels immeasurably better than this narrative. So, if you wish to read the series, you may want to find a summary for this, or go into it fully prepared for what’s to come.
Also, please note that the book does have strong themes of Nazi sympathising, depending on the context of certain situations and scenarios. I know that this may be harmful for some readers.
2.75 hyenas outta 5!