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The Last Odyssey


The Last Odyssey

There is a blurb on the back of James Rollins’ latest novel, THE LAST ODYSSEY, in which he is referred to as “the heir to the best of Michael Crichton.” I wish to make a slight alteration to this accolade. My personal impression, having read everything by Rollins, is that his work resembles a combination of the best of Dan Brown and Michael Crichton --- but infused with a lot more fun.

Having dozens of novels to his name, most of them part of his Sigma Force series, Rollins has proven to be not only a prolific writer but one who seems to improve with each new release. His characters and their families are living, breathing people who readers care about deeply. This makes taking a seat alongside them for another adventure both a privilege and an immense pleasure.

THE LAST ODYSSEY opens, like most of Rollins' books, with a historical backstory that is important to understand as events unfold rapidly during the start of the actual novel. This time around, we kick off with a line from Homer: “The journey is the thing.” Much of the book follows along with The Iliad and The Odyssey. These epic poems have been translated many times as they recount the Trojan War and what follows. Here, their interpretation plays an integral part in helping both the good and bad guys find a place on the map long since lost or thought of merely as a fable --- the Gates of Hell.

"There is nary a chance to catch your breath in this novel that is so expertly plotted and researched, it will make you wonder why these ancient secrets have not been discovered already.... This is simply a terrific read that ranks as one of James Rollins' finest books to date."

Through Homer's words, we see the collapse of three great empires: the Greek Mycenaeans, the Anatolian Hittites, and the Egyptians. The battle has been referred to by some historians as World War Zero. However, all were wiped out by a nameless Fourth Empire --- a civilization so mighty and forceful that they easily defeated these empires and then simply vanished into the past. Could Homer's depiction of gods and monsters have been true? And if so, did these beings represent the legendary Tartarus, or Hell? This is what drives Leonardo da Vinci and his student, Francesco, in the novel's prologue. Da Vinci and Pope Leo X discover an ancient folio that the former reads with much fervor, for the text quite possibly reveals the entrance to Hell.

We then jump to present day. Archaeologist Elena Cargill is with a small team in Greenland operating below a large glacier and following a local map to lead them to their destination. They find an abandoned wooden ship with many treasures inside it, including an ancient map that they sought. Elena and company don't get much chance to enjoy their victory as they are suddenly attacked by a heavily armed group that appears to be Middle Eastern. Elena is captured, while the others get away by traveling deeper within the glacier. It is here where they come upon horrors that their eyes have never seen before: luminescent bronze crabs of multiple sizes and a fire-breathing beast that resembles a combination of bear and bull --- possibly the impetus for the Minotaur. Only one word can appropriately describe these creatures: demons.

The head of Sigma Force, Painter Crowe, calls in the team led by Commander Grayson “Gray” Pierce and orders them to head to Greenland at once. Sigma Force members Joe Kowalski and Maria Crandall arrive in an effort to rescue Elena and recover the artifacts she found. However, they fail to retrieve her and lose Joe to the enemies. Maria, though, is successful in claiming the main artifact --- the Astrolabe --- a spherical key that can unlock special ancient maps to reveal where Tartarus may actually lie.

Gray and the rest of the team are supposed to go to the Vatican, where a map supposedly exists that the Astrolabe can read --- once they rescue Maria and her small group. Instead, they are sent to Castel Gandolfo, Italy, where they are met by Father Bailey and Monsignor Roe. The map in question is the same one that Pope Leo X had commissioned da Vinci to create from the ancient Arabic text they had found. When operational, it would lead to the Gates of Hell. The map that Monsignor Roe shows them is said to be opened by the Daedalus Key. Perhaps their Astrolabe can serve this purpose. Just as they begin to read the findings on the map, Castel Gandolfo is attacked by heavy fire --- by the same group that now has Elena and Joe as captives.

Both sides have their own pieces of the puzzle that will supposedly end at Hell. The other side, now identified as Arabic, is warned of trespassing on the area known as the Forge of Hephaestus. This will require them to travel where even angels fear to tread.

There is nary a chance to catch your breath in this novel that is so expertly plotted and researched, it will make you wonder why these ancient secrets have not been discovered already. Or, in the case of THE LAST ODYSSEY, defending and guarding the artifacts so that no one ever finds Tartarus. This is simply a terrific read that ranks as one of James Rollins' finest books to date.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on March 27, 2020

The Last Odyssey
by James Rollins

  • Publication Date: August 18, 2020
  • Genres: Adventure, Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0062892924
  • ISBN-13: 9780062892928