Sunday, January 3, 2010

Book Review: "Altar of Eden" by James Rollins

Altar of Eden

Following the fall of Baghdad, two Iraqi boys stumble upon armed men looting their city zoo.  The floodgates have been opened for the smuggling of hundreds of exotic birds, mammals, and reptiles to Western nations, but this crime hides a deeper secret.  Amid a hail of bullets, a concealed underground weapons lab is ransacked- and something even more horrific is set free.

Seven years later, Louisiana state veterinarian Lorna Polk stumbles upon a fishing trawler shipwrecked on a barrier island.  The crew is missing or dead, but the boat holds a frightening cargo: a caged group of exotic animals, clearly part of a black market smuggling ring.

Yet, something is wrong with these beasts, disturbing deformities that make no sense: a parrot with no feathers, a pair of Capuchin monkeys conjoined at the hip, a jaguar cub with the dentition of a saber-toothed tiger.  They also all share one uncanny trait- a disturbingly heightened intelligence.

To uncover the truth about the origin of this strange cargo and the terrorist threat it poses, Lorna must team up with a man who shares a dark and bloody past with her and is now an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol, Jack Menard.

Together, the two must hunt for a beast that escaped the shipwreck while uncovering a mystery tied to fractal science and genetic engineering, all to expose a horrifying secret that traces back to humankind's earliest roots.

But can Lorna stop what is about to be born upon the altar of Eden before it threatens not only the world but also the very foundation of what it means to be human?


Wowzers.... That is the first word that comes to mind here.  If you had read my previous post introducing James Rollins as my all time favorite author, and the single person who inspired us to start this review site, you would already know that this book gets 10 out of 5 stars!  (that says a lot for someone who really refuses to use the "star" system to rate books!)

I had contemplated giving you guys a typical "Dave" review or just giving you a typical review that you will find everywhere else on the net for this book and many others- a brief "I loved this book because... blah, blah, blah" for the simple reason that I felt if I gave you my typical review, I would give too much of the story away and somewhere slip on something I'd rather have you read yourself.  However, I can not revert to the "norm" of typical review sites, therefore you will get what you guys come here for (hopefully), a "Dave" review. (and I will do my best as always to give you plenty, but nothing too revealing!)

Here goes... When I started this one and read the prologue set in Baghdad, I thought this would be another Rollins novel that is set in various places in the world.  It was not.  It was set mostly in New Orleans and the surrounding area (swamplands) as well as a small, isolated tropical island somewhere off the coast.  The introduction, set in Baghdad gives you an excellent understanding of how the main bad guy here, Duncan gets his disturbing "look."  Also, it tells a secret that ends up saving a life at the end of the book, but I highly doubt anyone will catch it, as I didn't until the end when I said, "oh yeah, now I get it."

Once these "genetically modified" (i explained about them in the introduction up above) animals find themselves beached in New Orleans by mistake, few are salvaged before a fail safe is detonated and the rest of the evidence is destroyed.  Clearly, the point was for them to be delivered somewhere, and not to get shipwrecked and found.  In the midst of all of this commotion, a puzzlingly gigantic jaguar, with saber tooth tiger like 12 inch fangs gets loose and creates a ton of havoc in the swamplands.  To save you a good 1/3 of the book, lets just say that it's overly heightened intelligence as well as the fact that it protects one of it's cubs, causes many deaths while it is attempted to be captured.  Does it get captured or killed?  What happens once it is captured or killed? Those is one's that I will not tell you, but I will say that something must happen or else a whole bunch more trouble will be brewing.

Once that is dealt with, we are left with a handful of genetically altered animals that are holed up in ACRES, a government sponsored private research facility for endangered species.  Dr. Lorna Polk, who is one of the main characters in the book, is trying to figure out with her team, what is so different about these animals- why, how, and most importantly.... who has done this to them?

This is the extent of what I will share with you about the animals, and I promise it gives nothing away.  Each animal is found to be extremely smart, to the point that a featherless parrot is able to recite "pi" into the hundreds of digits, verbatim.  What is found in common for all of these animals is that they each contain an extra pair of "junk" chromosomes.  FACT- Junk chromosomes are in abundance in each of our DNA sequences and there is some debate as to their purpose.  Some say that they are simply there as waste that has been with us since the beginning of time and just became to lie dormant, while others believe that there is a purpose they are there, a purpose that we are currently exploring in many labs throughout the world.  For the purposes of "Altar of Eden".... well if I told you that, I'd be giving away a bit more than I'd like to offer :o)

The big trouble starts for Lorna and Jack, a leader in the local Border Patrol and the brother of Lorna's past love who, when someone decides that they need to come after their lost animals,  (at ACRES) destroy them, and leave no traces of anything or anyone lying around.  This is where the "fun" starts.

Skip ahead, since I'm not telling you what happens at ACRES, where the "clean up" is supposed to happen, to where Lorna is captured and taken to a set of islands.  These islands are where the whole operation of the animals originated and is currently being worked on.  Once there, Lorna discovers that the operation goes FAR beyond that of genetically altered animals.  This is why I contemplated giving you any of this review, but I will simply choose to leave out the discovery that  was found.  What I will tell you is that at one point, Lorna herself has some of her own eggs surgically taken from her as part of the next phase of their experiments!

Again, as to not give anything away and I apologize for having to cut the review short, but if I say much more I'll spoil a lot, I'm going to leave you with some questions.  What is it that Lorna discovers on the island that can change the world as we know it?  What happens to the island and all of its inhabitants? Who is behind all of this and why? Who lives and who dies?  These are all questions that are answered for you in the book.  But I will leave you with this.  Rollins NEVER leaves everything as you would expect it.  There are always twists, turns and surprises happening when you least expect them to.  

In "Altar of Eden" what got me was what went on beyond the "animal" genetic alterations.  The reality of what can possibly happen and is believed to be currently experimented on, is unbelievable and even more so, overly frightening.  The one thing about ALL of Rollins work is that in each and every book, he details some sort of biological experimentation or catastrophe that seems to be all too real.  Just the threat of them alone scares me deeply.  What's worse is that in most cases if not all, these are things that are either secretly being experimented on by the government, or are being privately funded by corporations around the world.  In many of his books, Rollins will give you factual details of events that you and I ponder on what is reality and what is not-  scientific evidence of their existence.  Either way, after reading his novels, I am always left thinking for a long time.  

Thank you all for reading this review.  It is near and dear to my heart, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to tell you and what not to.  I hope that I was able to give you an insight to "Altar of Eden" as I did not really even scratch the surface with this book.  Keep in mind that besides these biological issues, Rollins has a fantastic way of building a full on action-adventure/thriller around them.  That is what makes his writing irresistible.  I do crave for the release of each new book, whether it be a stand alone or part of the Sigma series.  I will review his first novel in the Sigma series, but I will need to re-read it first.  Currently, I believe "The Doomsday Key" which is the most recent, is the sixth installment of the series, so needless to say I do need to re-read the first, "Sandstorm."  

For those of you who have not already done so, please read the previous post where I introduce Rollins and give you some detailed info on him and his career.  If you have children, he did write a "Jake Ransom" book, which was the first he wrote in Children's/YA, with more to come soon.  "Jake Ransom" is written in a similar format to his regular work, but toned down just a bit to make it thrilling for all ages. Also, just a reminder, if you are a "fantasy" fan, under the pen name James Clemens, he did write an entire series (Witch series)  as well as the first 2 books in a second series called "Godslayer Chronicles" which I loved the better of the 2 series.  These 2 fantasy series are nothing like his Rollins books at all, but were still fascinating none the less.  As always, if you have any questions, feel free to email me at  Thanks!



  1. This looks so good! I've never even heard of it, but I totally want to read it now!

  2. Wow, great review. What a fancinating story. I have no choice now. I need to get it.
    I think that there is more going on out there (governmental science studies) that we do not know about. I have a feeling, I will be left pondering for hours too....after reading this book.

    dorcontest at gmail dot com

  3. Thanks for trying not to give too much away.I know when you love a book soo much, it's hard not to spill all the awesome details out of shear excitement.
    sugerhslk (at) hotmail dot com

  4. This sounds good-did you ever read The Zookeepers's Wife-it is the true story about the zookeeper and her animals during WW11

  5. This sounds interesting...Very cool.