Book Review – James Rollins’ “The Judas Strain”

Today we’re taking a look at The Judas Strain, the fourth book in James Rollins‘ thrilling SIGMA Series novels.

Released in 2007, The Judas Strain takes readers on an adventure as a team of specialized scientists and warriors tracks the origins of a deadly plague.  It’s a quest that circles around the world and dates back to the travels of one of Europe’s most celebrated explorers — Marco Polo.

James Rollins --- The Judas Strain

James Rollins — The Judas Strain

The Judas Strain begins with a brief prologue in the year 1293.  On the island of Sumatra in southeastern Asia, a terrifying disease wipes out most of Marco Polo‘s crew and companions.  It’s a disease so horrifying that its discussion was carefully removed from Marco Polo’s journal after he returned to Italy two years later.

Fast forward to today.

SIGMA Commander Gray Pierce is spending some time in Maryland with his parents when he’s suddenly paid a visit by a dangerous advisory from his past —- Seichan, a member of The Guild, a dangerous international terrorist organization.  She’s been shot, her pursuers are still in the area, and Seichan is carrying a very important artifact, an artifact that has already cost a person his life back in the Vatican.

Gray is forced to allow his parents to join him as he tries to drive Seichan to a safe area.  Their car is pursued by Seichan’s attackers, but Gray is able to lose them in a forest.  He takes them to a SIGMA safe house in the nearby area.  Things aren’t what they seem as The Guild (disguised as an ambulance crew) tries to ambush the gang.  Gray, Seichen, and SIGMA operator Joe Kowalski are forced to flee as Gray’s parents are captured and taken prisoner.

While that was taking place in Maryland, SIGMA operators Drs. Lisa Cummings and Monk Kokkalis have been researching a mysterious plague that appeared on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.  The cruise ship Mistress of the Seas has been serving as a floating hospital and research station as the scientists try to save the islanders and find a cure for the disease.

While they’re researching the disease, the cruise ship comes under the attack by pirates.  The ship is seized and all of the scientists and crew are captured.  During the attack Monk was on the island, and he has to fight his way back to the ship and slip on board without being spotted.  The ship is then sailed away from the island and towards an unknown destination.  It’s quickly realized that these aren’t ordinary pirates, and the pirates are acting under orders of The Guild.

The Mistress of the Seas is sailed further into Indonesia’s hundreds of islands, and the ship is hidden in a harbor on the island of Pusat.  A giant camouflaged net covers the ship, hiding the massive sailing vessel from search aircraft and surveillance satellites.  To make matters worse, Pusat is home to cannibals, and the waters around the island aren’t home to sharks, but instead a pack of squid that are very capable of dragging human beings to their death beneath the surface of the water.

Back in Maryland, Seichan is treated for her injuries, SIGMA Director Painter Crowe uses his resources to hunt for both the missing cruise ship as well as Gray’s parents, and Gray Pierce works with Seichen to stay ahead of The Guild.  Seichen reveals that the artifact that she acquired was from the Vatican, and it’s linked to the travels of Marco Polo.  This is confirmed when Monsignor Vigor Verona discovers the mark of the Dragon Court inside of an old part of the Vatican, and he informs Painter Crowe of his discovery.

Gray analyzes Seichan’s stolen artifact and discovers that it’s covered in writing that is not ancient heiroglyphics, but rather angelic script, the language of the archangels.  Hidden inside of the artifact is an old silver crucifix, one that is later revealed to have once belonged to Friar Antonio Agreer, one of Marco Polo’s priests during his trip to Asia.  The script is analyzed and Gray, Seichan and Joe Kowalski travel to Istanbul, Turkey, to meet with Vigor Verona at Hagia Sophia.  Seichan reveals that after the discovery of the deadly virus on Christmas Island, The Guild has had two teams researching a cure —- one team that analyzes the disease, and one team that traces its history and is seeking to find answers at its source.  Of course, The Guild aims to use the disease as a weapon against humanity once they discover a way to control it.

The Judas Strain continues at a breathtaking pace as Gray’s team travels around the world, following the clues, and studying Marco Polo’s route and the rest of the his encounter with the disease.  After discovering the next clue hidden inside of Hagia Sophia, the team races to Hormuz Island and discovers another clue at the hidden tomb of Kokejin, the young princess that Marco Polo was asked to escort to Persia.  After that they put together the clues and reach the temple complex of Angor Wat in Cambodia.  It’s there that they reach the temple of Bayon, known to Marco Polo as the City of the Dead.

Gray’s parents eventually escape from their captors and are rescued by Painter Crowe, Monk helps Lisa escape but he’s forced to remain behind and is presumed to have been killed, and Gray’s team defeats The Guild’s team in Cambodia.  A cure for the disease is discovered and its source is ultimately destroyed.  The very ending of the book has a minor supernatural element involving one of the secondary characters.


Is James Rollins’ The Judas Strain any good?


This book is filled with action, adventure, history, and plenty of medical drama concerning bacteria and diseases.  While the “doomsday plague” idea has been used probably a thousand times now in the world of fiction, James Rollins’ version is definitely worthwhile and quite fascinating.  This is an extremely detailed story involving several plots interwoven together with the back story of Marco Polo’s return trip from eastern China to Italy.

My only fault with The Judas Strain is that the plot involving Gray’s team following Marco Polo’s clues seemed to be a little bit too similar to the events in Map of Bones, the second book in the SIGMA Force series.  This isn’t necessarily a major fault in The Judas Strain, but the similarities are still there.

Anyway, The Judas Strain is still a great story, and James Rollins is an amazing author.  You cannot go wrong with his books! four stars