At the outset of this review, I need to make a couple of things clear:
1. I was asked by the PR dept. at Harper Collins if I would accept a free copy of this book and review it. I imagine they asked me (along with other Mormon writers/bloggers) to do this due to the book’s subject matter including Mormons and Mormon history. I accepted, without any strings attached.
2. There exists no agreement that I would necessarily review this book favorably. The review below is my honest appraisal of this book with zero input from Harper Collins.
3. I believe that I am the target audience for this book. I am an adult male who loves espionage, thrillers, and history.
4. I’m assuming that since I am obviously Mormon and Harper Collins asked me to do this review that they wanted me to add a Mormon perspective. What I say in this review is NOT an official position of my church, but it IS my very nit-picky take on how Mr. Rollins treats his subject matter.
I shall start with my nit picking so that I can get it out of the way and review the book on its overall merit.
Nits and Picks:
1. Maggie Grantham is a BYU professor (not explicitly described as LDS). Hank Kanosh is a Mormon and BYU professor as well. He chews stogies, which is referred to in the book as a necessary concession, but there is a reference to a tryst between these two, with no judgement of such a thing. LDS doctrine considers an extra-marital sexual tryst as far more serious than chewing on a stogie. This would be of extreme significance to these two people in the context of their LDS culture. It would inform much of these people’s lives and what they do. Also, both professors are expected to live by BYU’s honor code; a sexual tryst is far, far outside that code.
2. Referring to the Mormon church as the Church of Latter-Day Saints is a sign of an incomplete knowledge of the church, its doctrine and history. It’s officially called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, shortened to the LDS church, the Mormon church, or the Mormons.
3. Joseph Smith is the name of the man who translated the golden plates, which translation became the Book of Mormon. Rollins gets this right early in the book, but inexplicably starts calling him John Smith about halfway through the book and never gets it right again.
4. There is a point in the book wherein Kanosh (remember, a Mormon from birth) ostensibly seems to be meeting the prophet/president of the LDS church to give him something of great value. Kanosh does this in the Salt Lake City temple, apparently right outside the Holy of Holies. Not likely at all. And Kanosh kneels in front of the prophet. That’s very not Mormon. People meet the LDS prophet all the time. We shake his hand and absolutely do NOT worship the man.
And that, my friends, is it. Harmless little things. There are plenty of other interesting references to Mormon beliefs, particularly regarding the history of the peoples talked about in the Book of Mormon. But those are generally authorial fabrications made in order to tell the story.
Now the review:
James Rollins is very like a combination of Dan Brown, Matt Reilly, and Clive Cussler. I would say that he is all three of those authors on their best day. I liked The Devil Colony about 17,452 times more than anything I have read by Dan Brown, particularly since Rollins demonstrates zero addiction to melodramatic adverbs and this book was populated by real people who do things that exact a real price upon them.
That’s also why The Devil Colony is more effective than Clive Cussler’s work, which I quite enjoy. Dirk Pitt, Cussler’s usual hero, seems completely invincible and to always have the answers; there is never much doubt about the inevitable outcome of Pitt’s adventures.
Matt Reilly is another favorite thriller writer for me, and Rollins really compares well to Reilly. The difference is that Reilly’s action is so non-stop that you forget who’s doing what sometimes. And there are a couple of eye rolls that come about with Reilly’s work.
I have to say I think The Devil Colony is the best modern thriller I have read in ages. This is because the characters really seem human. Kai is a particularly good character– her inner dialogue is deftly done and she never seems like a throwaway character. But each person is flawed, and they each have relationships that motivate what they’re doing. They also all go through hell and pay a price for their narrow escapes and successes. I like it when a character uses ingenuity to fix the ‘fix’ that they’re in.
Another place that The Devil Colony shines is that it’s a team effort. The Sigma Force is a group of folks who are all insanely intelligent and they work together. I like that they made solid use of modern technology to stay in touch and coordinate their efforts. The real-time sense of the pacing also lent a nice feeling of authenticity to the story. The characters are interesting and well developed, with plenty going on internally to lend tension to the conflicts around the characters.
Rollins, like many other thriller writers, uses 3rd person omniscient, thus enabling him to allow the reader to follow the antagonist. This is effectively done in The Devil Colony, and again, it’s far better than anything by Dan Brown. Browns’ villains all feel like they’re out of an old melodrama like Klondike Kalamity. Rafael Saint Germaine, the main antagonist of The Devil Colony, is an intriguing fellow whose secrets are murky but who seems like a real fellow. A bad fellow, mostly, but a real one.
This is a big book. It comes in at 474 pages. But it was engaging enough and well paced to the point that I felt like it was a quick read. Even the prose is smooth and well-crafted. Rollins is clearly a master of this game.
As a book– a novel-length story– I really don’t have anything critical to say about The Devil Colony. It’s very creative, manages cliffhangers very well, moves things along at a suitably breathless clip, makes you mostly care about the characters, and pulls some slick twists.
I liked the book. As a dyed-in-the-wool, true-blue Mormon (a convert, yes, but nonetheless), I found nothing at which to take offense. Rollins takes a few liberties, but they’re more or less innocuous. I’d like to chat with the fellow about some of his research, actually.
I’d say, read the book. If you like thrillers, you’ll love The Devil Colony. Vast in scope, daring in its implications, and rollicking in its action; it’s a great read.
4.5 out of 5 pens.