The Blood Gospel by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell is the first novel in a horror action-adventure series called The Order of the Sanguines. The story kicks off when an earthquake in Masada, Israel reveals a buried tomb within a subterranean temple holding the crucified body of a mummified girl. When a savage attack leads to the tomb’s hidden mysteries getting stolen, it forces three unique individuals to come together and embark on a journey to retrieve it before it can be used for global devastation.
While I really enjoy James Rollins’ works, at some point it all just blends together into one very formulaic narrative from start to finish. There’s a stronger added element of romance in this particular novel that isn’t as fluffy and forced in Rollins’ books, which makes me believe it’s part of the contributions of his co-author. Unfortunately, it just made this title with an interesting premise even more of a struggle to get through, regardless of the intriguing qualities.
Three things I liked about The Blood Gospel include the vampires and the world-building around the vampire lore, particularly as it’s connected to Christian religions, the action, and one of the main characters who’s a priest.
It was nice to see vampires without the overabundant fetishization and romanticism that tends to follow them around like shadows. In this story, they are definitely monstrous human-like beings with very carnal and animalistic urges, and there are really two sides to them. The vampires that seek to kill and fully embrace their vicious instincts, and those who use their abilities to do God’s work (Catholic specific). Watching the two sides essentially partake in a millennia-old war fed the part of my brain that really thrives on taboo and controversial historical lore and conspiracies. Plus, it also leads to encounters with some rather grotesque yet cool monsters that go beyond simple vampirism.
Because of the two conflicting sides and perspectives, there’s a lot of action and violence in this book. While the action is typical of a Rollins’ adventure tale, the depth of the gore and details of the deaths aren’t as much. This helps to contribute to the “horror” aspect of the novel as it’s very vivid and easy to imagine, plus it is a terrifying thought to visualise what happens to the bodies in The Blood Gospel. The action and the historical references and over-arching doom-and-gloom plotline work well together, which really only enchanted me because of one of three main characters.
To avoid spoilers, all I’ll say is that he’s a priest and he’s very emblematic of what his specific character encapsulates. But his no-non-sense yet veiled compassion just made me enjoy his presence on the page. The other two… not so much. This brings me to the things that I did not care for at all, which includes the page count, the fact that this is a trilogy, and the romance. Dear Boss Man, the romance… just no.
The story takes its time getting to the different points with tons of exposition in-between, most of which is just inserted there to help build tension and a dark and slowly disastrous ambiance. But here’s the issue with that: if there are just walls and walls of information in the middle of Points A, B, and C, eventually the reader will become bored, restless, and even frustrated, which is what happened to me. What sucked even more was the vast majority of the ink taking up space was a repetitive uninteresting crafting of romance between two of the three characters, with some attempt at a love triangle tossed in for extra excitement.
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t exciting. At all.
It was awkward, unnatural, and very industrial. I’ve read young adult books that have much better written and more naturally progressive romantic relationships as teenagers yell at one another over really stupid shit. I’m also not the biggest of romance fans in general (and I fucking hate most love triangles), so I’m sure my usually minor frustrations with them were blown into a much bigger issue than it may actually be. I’m not above admitting that at all. Even so, it doesn’t change the fact that when the romantic moments do occur, it’s always during tricky moments that takes away from the cohesiveness of an otherwise fairly decent action-adventure book with some horror seasoning tossed in for good measure. As such the book is 200 pages too damn long, in my opinion.
On top of the extra length, there are two more books that come after The Blood Gospel, and each one is roughly the same size (600ish pages). The vampire and monster stuff is great, but it’s not three books great (plus a few short stories in between each volume). It doesn’t need to be three books long. It would’ve been much better as a single tome, maybe with a smaller novella as a wrap-up or epilogue. But that’s really about it. Anything beyond that treads into chore territory, and reading should never be a chore (for me). Even when I read for Uni, it’s never an actual chore or humdrum experience.
All in all, The Blood Gospel isn’t a terrible book, especially for an action-adventure that tries to be darker and creepier than the average within the genre. It’s not perfect, by far, and it has moments that make continuing forward quite questionable, but it’s still entertaining. At the end of the day, that’s all it’s meant for. It’s not going to make you think and contemplate life’s many wonders or controversies. It’s just going to give you a ton of ass-kicking with favoured paranormal monsters and a team of a strange trio of folx that somehow fit decently together, love-shub bullshite aside. Oh, and there are Nazis because it’s always the fucking Nazis. My overall recommendation is INDIFFERENT. Some will love it, some will hate it, and some will linger in the middle, like me.
Publication Date: August 2013
Publisher: Harper (978-0061991059)
Series: Order of the Sanguines
Page Count: 736
Content Warnings: Graphic violence and deaths, including blood, gore, and body mutilation. Some strong language. Sexual content and innuendo. Attempted sexual assault. Drinking and smoking. Preparation and consumption of food. Mass death via natural disaster. Character with cancer. Human experimentation. Strong presence of Nazis including Nazi sympathising.
Availability: In-print; paperback, eBook, and audiobook formats available.