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James Rollins’ work has always amazed, entertained and thrilled me. His research is impeccable, and his ability to weave it into his novels is masterful. That said, Rollins has never written a book as frightening and scarily plausible as CRUCIBLE. Here, he has composed a terrifying end-of-the-world theory that may become a reality sooner than we think.

Fans of the Terminator movies will recognize the prophecy that by creating intelligent artificial life, we are actually setting up humanity to be eventually overtaken and disposed of by the very A.I.'s we built. We live in a world where Siri guides us on our smartphones, while some users of Amazon's Alexa have noticed the device displaying odd behaviors, such as mimicking its owner’s voice and even reports of it laughing when no one is in the room. This is all scary but true --- and the A.I. in CRUCIBLE, nicknamed Eve, surpasses them all as a man-made invention with a woman's name and voice that is evolving minute by minute into something no one could ever predict.

The writing here is fast and furious, and the end result is nothing short of brilliant. If you imagine the literary morphing of Michael Crichton, Steve Berry, Dan Brown and Ray Bradbury at their best, you will get a taste of the new heights to which Rollins has risen with his latest novel. When he chooses a quote from Elon Musk that states, “With artificial intelligence we are summoning a demon,” you know you are in for one wild ride of a read.

"If you imagine the literary morphing of Michael Crichton, Steve Berry, Dan Brown and Ray Bradbury at their best, you will get a taste of the new heights to which Rollins has risen with his latest novel."

It all starts with the gathering of a practicing witches coven in Coimbra, Portugal, which includes a simulcast of young Mara Silviera, who is heralded as the savior of the group. Its members, many of whom are well-renowned female scientists, are slaughtered by mysterious robed men, who are alarmed to find Mara not there in person. She is safe, as is the A.I. she has created (the aforementioned Eve).

At the end of the bloodbath, the computer that showed the live feed of Mara is left with the image of the Greek letter sigma. Ironically, the introduction of Sigma Force members Gray Pierce and Monk Kokkalis on Christmas Eve has them entering into their own nightmare. Gray’s house has been ransacked in an apparent home invasion. Monk's wife, Kat, is found badly beaten and bleeding out, while his two young daughters --- along with Gray's pregnant partner, Seichan --- are missing.

Gray learns from his commander, Painter Crowe, that the murders in Portugal and the violent kidnapping of Sigma Force members is no coincidence. The group claiming responsibility for both has ties to the 1600s and the Spanish Inquisition. This cabal is known as the Hammer of Witches, and part of their grand scheme is to return the world to eternal darkness. Hence, by possessing Eve, this all can become a reality.

Kat is in a state beyond mere coma and appears to be showing signs of locked-in syndrome. Even though it may lead to her death, Monk agrees to let Lisa from his team perform an experimental procedure on Kat that could be the only way to communicate with her and find out information needed to locate his daughters and Seichan. We learn that the group that abducted them is Russian, led by an evil woman named Valya, who is nicknamed the Snow Queen after the Hans Christian Andersen tale with which Monk's daughters are familiar.

In what quickly turns into a race against time on Christmas, Monk and Gray fly to Europe to find Mara and get to the bottom of her project and the unforeseen damage into which it can thrust the world. They receive a 22-hour deadline from Valya to lead her to Mara and Eve, or else Monk's daughters will be tortured and killed. Meanwhile, another group operating on behalf of the cabal is in the process of hacking into Eve and using the program against Paris, France, which is targeted for mass destruction, along with a nuclear plant outside the city. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Eve is getting more sentient and powerful, and soon will realize that its ultimate goal is to bring about hell on earth by sending the world into complete darkness.

CRUCIBLE pulls no punches and makes you wonder how James Rollins could have imagined it. I was fortunate some years back to attend a reading and book signing featuring Rollins in downtown Manhattan. I remember him saying that he keeps an “ideas” box where he throws in articles or various clippings. When he’s stuck on an idea for a new novel, he can just give the box a shake and reach in. I'm wondering what he pulled out that gave him the impetus for this book. Was it an article he read, or the fond recollection of a film like WarGames?

What's more concerning is that he opens CRUCIBLE with a section called Notes from the Scientific Record, where he claims not only that the emergence of a fully sentient A.I. will doom humanity but that the end game for it may have begun already. As long as I have some James Rollins books with me to read as I wait for the inevitable future he predicts, I know I will be just fine.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 25, 2019

by James Rollins

  • Publication Date: July 30, 2019
  • Genres: Adventure, Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0062381792
  • ISBN-13: 9780062381798