Review – “The Devil Colony” by James Rollins

Review – “The Devil Colony” by James Rollins

What do you get when you mix nanotechnology, Thomas Jefferson, the lost tribe of Israel, super volcanoes, Lewis and Clark, killer whales, Fort Knox, American Indian artifacts, secret codes, and Mormonism?  You get the latest Sigma Force novel from James Rollins – “The Lost Colony”.  You also get a quite enjoyable read.

Longtime fans of Rollins will be familiar with Sigma Force – a secret government agency populated with scientists, scholars, and soldiers.  They exist in the shadow world of covert operations and deal with situations of national security that fall outside of what most people would consider “business as usual”.  In “The Devil Colony”, Rollins again pits the principles of Sigma Force against the clock in a race to avert a potentially world altering catastrophe.

I’m not sure I can distill the plot of “The Devil Colony” down to a nice, neat, and succinct paragraph or two – but I’ll give it a shot.  When an ancient Indian burial chamber is discovered, a priceless artifact begins a chain reaction that could result in the destruction of much of the United States.  Painter Crow, director of Sigma Force, is pulled into the burgeoning crisis by his niece, a Native American activist, and quickly discovers that The Guild (the dark Ying to Sigma Force’s Yang) also has an interest in the unfolding events.

While Painter races to find the roots of this impending disaster, Sigma Force operative Gray Pierce is thrown together with his one time nemesis Seichan, to track down clues left by Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark fame) that could shed light on the unfolding events.  As they follow the 200+ year old trail, they find a web of events involving Lewis and Thomas Jefferson that promise to lead them to a lost city in America – a city that not only is home to a lost American colony, but could also hold the key to averting catastrophe.

Okay – now that I’ve written that, it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what’s going on in the book.  Questions and answers, actions and reactions – they all swirl around each other to build the framework on which the story rests.  Fair warning – there will be a few minor spoilers in the next paragraph, so here is your chance to skip ahead.  Spoilers commence in 3,2,1…

At the heart of the novel are many intriguing questions.  Could there have been a tribe of “pale Indians” in ancient America, descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel?  How did those “pale Indians” relate to Mormonism?  How did the Indian nations influence the founding of our country, the writing of the Declaration of Independence, and the creation of things such as the Great Seal of the U.S.?  Why did Jefferson really send Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition to the West?  Could primitive tribes of Indians really have created metals and alloys using nanotechnology? Most importantly, how do all these things relate to one another?  You didn’t think I was going to tell you, did you?  You’ll have to read the book for answers…


Okay – spoilers are over.  Just had to get that out of my system.


Rollins rarely disappoints with his writing and this book is no exception.  It’s clear that he’s at home writing thrillers and he plays the conventions and conceits of the genre like a master violinist.  In some hands this story would have felt clichéd – a derivative amalgamation of disparate historical facts forced together to make a picture that refuses to come in to full focus.  Instead, Rollins crafts a tight narrative that had me hooked from the first pages and tearing through large chunks of the story at every available moment.

As with most of his books, Rollins grounds the action in reality.  More than almost any other author today, he has the capacity to seamlessly meld fact with fiction and create a plausible world that could only exist within the implausible world of fiction.  I found that I learned a few things about American history I didn’t know before.  That alone would have been worth the price of admission, but to have Rollins weave them all together in such a skillful way – and have the entire narrative hum with cohesiveness – well that was just the icing on the proverbial cake for me.

Fans of the Sigma Force novels will find much to like in “The Devil Colony”.  All of your favorites are here – Painter, Grey, Monk, Seichen, Kowolski – it’s a comfortable group of old friends that guide you through the action.  My only complaint is that we didn’t get to spend as much time with the characters as I would have liked.  There was a lot going on in the book, but I still found myself wanting more time with everyone.

There is also a major development in the ongoing thread of The Guild contained in “The Devil Colony”.  I like series with a rich continuity and this book promises the beginning of a long awaited payoff as to the identity of The Guild and the reasons for its existence.  My one message to Mr. Rollins is this – let’s start answering some questions!  I like a world spanning, super secret cabal as much as the next reader – but I want to know a little more about them.  Grey and Painter aren’t getting any younger.  Neither am I, for that matter.

If you are new to James Rollins, I would suggest you start with “Amazonia” or “Map of Bones” – the first books in the Sigma series.  (It’s not imperative that you start there, but as is the case with most series, you will enjoy the richer tapestry and character history of the later novels if you lay the foundation in first.)  If you are a James Rollins fan, don’t hesitate to pick up “The Devil Colony”.  It delivers the same high-octane, historically based thriller you’ve come to expect over the last few years.   It took Rollins 2 years to write this novel and, while it was very much worth the wait, I hope we do not have to wait another two years to answer some of the questions raised in the last chapter of “The Devil Colony”.  It’s just getting interesting – I want to know what happens next.

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