Happy Sunday to all out there!
My kitty is feeling a bit under the weather lately. As such I have not been able to sleep very much at all. Taking this as a sign, I decided to try and be a bit productive this excruciatingly hot weekend morning. If this review seems like a hot mess, I blame my severe lack of sleep entirely, so please bear with me. ♥
I actually finished this book a couple of weeks ago, but the tendrils of a writing slump, specifically in regards to reviews, were slithering around me like a noose. In an effort to avoid the slump reaching high-intensity, I avoided writing my biblio-musings entirely. Slumps of any kind can be so terribly depressing. But I think those tendrils have run away, fleeing for their very tails, which means I can write reviews again, wooot!
The Judas Strain written by James Rollins is the fourth instalment in the adult action-adventure series, Sigma Force. This volume revolves around a physiologically unique strain of an ancient virus that mutates harmless, benign bacteria into killer parasites, quickly turning into an epidemic. Meanwhile, a long-forgotten Angelic script arises within the Vatican in Italy, revealing an intricate trail to the revelation of the mysterious and undocumented time period of Marco Polo’s voyage from China to Persia. When Sigma Force is sent in to prevent global catastrophe, the connections that arise will shock all.
After the disappointment that was the third volume, I had very low expectations for The Judas Strain. But when a familiar face showed up within the first fifty pages, a person whom I absolutely adored from my favourite instalment (Map of Bones), my hopes began to rise. I’m glad to say that I wasn’t disappointed by this book at all. In fact, I was surprised and found myself quite hungry for the plot’s unravelling.
Italian history and conspiracy theories intrigue me to no avail, and Marco Polo’s journey is no exception. I have done tremendous research on Sir Polo’s journey. Everything about it really fucking fascinates me. I was completely blown away (again) by the depth of research and accurate information that went into building the narrative for this novel. While there are some creative liberties taken, they are done so in the most limited amounts necessary to create a compelling work of fiction. Even the fictitious aspects explored within the six-hundred-some-odd pages are quite believable due to the nature of what occurred. Coupled with actual Italian artefacts in their native and original language (which I can speak), I felt overwhelmed by a desire to sit and read the whole thing in one sitting, more so when the prose draws it out of you.
Because the book is laced with material from real-life histories, it reads super fast. Normally my reading pace is approximately a page per minute. My dyslexia makes me a relatively slow reader. Nonetheless, with The Judas Strain, I was flying through it at double the normal pace! That’s how enamoured I became. The writing is sensationally smooth and atmospheric. It consumes you entirely to the point where you don’t even realise you’re reading a book. When you combine that with excellently composed suspense, tension, and empathetic characters, it creates a delectably dangerous concoction.
Since we are in the fourth instalment of the series, sharing adventures with almost the same exact crew of ass-kicking intellects, one of the elements that I was most-interested to read about were the relationships between everyone at Sigma, with each other as well as with people in their personal lives outside of their work. The Judas Strain gets emotionally intimate with the rapport between quite a few folks. This is fantastic for two reasons. The first is that it shines these people in a light that helps normalise them. The bonds that they share (or don’t share, i.e. dysfunctional dynamics) gives them something concrete to help tie them to the audience. It is far easier to empathise and feel compassion for characters that you can see bits of yourself in; helps to absorb the reader into the character’s plight in one shape or another. There’s a member of Sigma who ends up having family drawn into the action, which adds a whole new dimension to his personality, and helped me to better understand quite a lot about the way he behaves with folks that he cares about. It was brilliant and so goddamn intense. The second reason is that it helps to gradually build a foundation for these characters to keep growing and developing in a long-term setting (i.e. future books). This last task is not an easy one to do by far. When you have a series that spans over ten books, you will have both hits and misses, however, I’m pleased to say that thus far, Mr. Rollins has been doing a damn good job at this.
Those are all of the major facets of the novel that I found to be thoroughly pleasant and well-done. Some other minor features include: it avoids common tropes within this genre, which was an enormously positive change from Black Order; and there is a nice variety to the strange happenings such as the inclusion of pirates, cannibals, sea monsters, and deadly, dangerous organisations. The science behind the virus is judiciously stimulating. The explanations are thick with technical details and I adored all of it.
The only things that I would caution for readers is that there are a few sections that come off as info-dump heavy. It can contribute to an overtly overwhelming experience, more so if you are not a person who enjoys, understands, or cares for highly abstruse, science babble. There is also one individual who’s a part of the series overall that has a wishy-washy nature to them that I feel is kind of overdone at this point.
Overall, I’m really fucking proud to recommend The Judas Strain, and believe that the Sigma Force series is still worth the investment thus far. If you like action-adventure stories that are impeccably written, then check it out.
4.25 crowns outta 5!
TRIGGER WARNINGS: Graphic imagery of bodily injuries stemming from viruses. Brief scenes of physical torture.