The Demon Crown by James Rollins, a Sigma Force novel, blends action, adventure, science and history. Per usual, he takes a unique idea based on some truth and builds a narrative around it. Readers, in typical, Rollins style, learn something, while being entertained at the same time.
In this latest novel, the characters see creatures flying through the air wondering if it is a bird, a plane, and then realize they are gigantic wasps. It begins in 1903 when Alexander Graham Bell flies to Italy to retrieve the bones of James Smithson, the founder of the Smithsonian Institute. Within the grave is something that unleashes the “hordes of Hell.” The enemy organization, the Guild, releases a massive infestation of giant killer wasps, hoping to bring the world to its knees. On a beach in Hawaii, these indestructible wasps that reproduce at staggering rates, attack Sigma operatives, Grayson Pierce and Seichan, who are there enjoying some R and R. Now he and the rest of Sigma Force must race to eradicate these massive insects to save not only the world, but also his true love. It becomes obvious these bugs can be deadly to one’s health.
Elise Cooper: Can you tell us about your style of writing?
James Rollins: I try to find an event where I can connect history with science. This story came about after I read an article about homeland security concerns with invasive species. We already have these type of species accidentally introduced in the US whether it’s the Pythons in the Everglades or the various plants in other places. The national security concern is that some hostile power can weaponize the invasive species by making it toxic and difficult to get rid of. Once an insect is released in the environment they become hard to control like the Killer Bees or Fire Ants. I remember reading this author who wrote what really killed the dinosaurs was not a meteorite, but most likely insects competing with them and preying on them. I had this in my idea box for a number of years.
EC: Did you really want to creep readers out with these insects?
JR: I grew up watching the B movie version of some biological horror. I wanted to capture this, put it into a story, and add a scientific spin. My editor was also creeped out and felt it was the most disturbing book I had ever written. Being a vet I had one line I drew in the sand. It was when somebody brought in a tarantula to be treated. I did not want to touch it and referred them out.
EC: You also make the Japanese both bad and good in this novel?
JR: I wanted to do a modern take of the Ninja Warrior. Remember the bad organization, the Guild, was knocked out a few books ago. This allowed for a vacuum where another group was able to fill it. Let’s remember not every single root of the guild was destroyed and there were pockets hiding. They eventually built this new version.
EC: The three women characters, Aiko, the Japanese Intelligence official who wants a Sigma type organization in Japan; Seichen, the Sigma operative; and Vayla, the Guild assassin, all have similar traits?
JR: Yes. They are strong, good assassins, secretive, suspicious, and have a good sense of self. We will see more of Vayla and Seichen’s ongoing feud. As for Aiko we will see her again either cooperating or competing with Sigma.
EC: The jumping off point of the novel appears to be with James Smithson?
JR: He is basically the instigator for the story. In reality, there has always been a mystery surrounding him. He was a scientist who never set foot in the US; yet, left his entire legacy to the new nation. Why did he do it? He became the founder for the Smithsonian Institution. One of the reasons little is known about him is that near the end of the Civil War in 1865 a fire broke out destroying his lifelong work. The intrigue of him continued with people wondering why he was buried in Italy and in 1903 the famous American inventor Alexander Graham Bell robbed his grave, interring his remains at the Smithsonian Castle. What I added was something buried with him, the wasps.
EC: So you had the wasps like the cockroaches, able to stay alive for centuries?
JR: They were able to stay alive because their bacteria were encrusted in salt crystals after millions of years. My goal was to make the story a biological Pearl Harbor.
EC: In this book there are a few pictures of the Guild symbol. How did you come up with it?
JR: It is a version of the Free Mason symbol that the Guild co-opted. The inside symbols are actually combinations of multiple symbols because they have been around for centuries. They combined these various symbols from the different organizations they infiltrated.
EC: What about the Sigma Signal?
JR: It comes from math, the symbol for the sum of all the parts. It is the sum of the best soldiers and scientists, representing brain and brawn as well as the left and right sides of the brain.
EC: You also explore issues such as Alzheimer’s disease?
JR: My mom and dad died of it. Watching them suffer and seeing they had no quality of life was very hard. Commander Gray Pierce also saw his dad suffering with no quality of life so I had him end the suffering. But it is never an easy decision and he is still plagued and haunted by his choice. He just knew that his dad would not want to live this way and felt enough is enough.
EC: Please explain this quote, ‘so may you all live long and happy lives. As for the stalwart members of Sigma Force…well, only time will tell.’
JR: For a long time I resisted in doing a series because it is hard to maintain a level of jeopardy. I am able to get around that by have a large group of characters. If someone gets knocked off someone else will be recruited to take their place. No one is safe in my books. Yet, I am aware I need to balance making a character invincible with alienating readers. I was influenced by the writer Annie Proulx who once said, people read books because the world is messed up and with the stories they can find some sense and safety. I agree and hate anti-climatic endings and prefer happy endings.
EC: Can you tell us about your next projects?
JR: I am supporting a new enterprise called Veterans Publications. US 4 Warriors and I want them to immortalize their stories and experiences regarding what they did on the battlefield and after it.
The next Sigma book is currently titled, The Hammer Of Witches, about the Salem Witch Trial and the Spanish Inquisition where a patron Catholic Saint protects witches.
This summer an anthology will be published with eighteen short stories and a 140 page mini novel featuring ex-military handler Tucker Wayne and his dog Kane.
THE DEMON CROWN
Off the coast of Brazil, a team of scientists discovers a horror like no other, an island where all life has been eradicated, consumed and possessed by a species beyond imagination. Before they can report their discovery, a mysterious agency attacks the group, killing them all, save one, an entomologist, an expert on venomous creatures, Professor Ken Matsui from Cornell University.
Strangest of all, this inexplicable threat traces back to a terrifying secret buried a century ago beneath the National Mall: a cache of bones preserved in amber. The artifact was hidden away by a cabal of scientists—led by Alexander Graham Bell—to protect humankind. But they dared not destroy it, for the object also holds an astonishing promise for the future: the very secret of life after death.
Yet, nothing stays buried forever. An ancient horror—dormant in the marrow of those preserved bones—is free once more, nursed and developed into a weapon of incalculable strength and malignancy, ready to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting world.
To stop its spread, Commander Grayson Pierce of Sigma Force must survive a direct attack on the island of Maui. To be there first has always been the core mission of Sigma Force, a covert team forged to be America’s front line against emerging threats. But this time, even Sigma may not be able to decipher this deadly mystery, one that traces back to the founding of the Smithsonian Institution.
With each new discovery, the menace they hunt is changing, growing, spreading—adapting and surviving every attempt to stop it from reconquering a world it once ruled. And each transformation makes it stronger . . . and smarter.
Running out of time and options, Commander Grayson Pierce will be forced to make an impossible choice. To eradicate this extinction-level threat and expose those involved, he will have to join forces with Sigma’s greatest enemy—the newly resurrected Guild—even it if means sacrificing one of his own.