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AmazoniaAmazonia by James Rollins
Published: 2002
Length: 510 pages

In the first five pages of this book, the main character wrestles an anaconda under water and is sentenced by an Amazonian tribe to trail by combat. We’re also introduced to a secondary character that has a rehabilitated jaguar as a hunting partner and an Indiana Jones whip hanging from his hip, which later he actually uses to flick a gun out of someone’s hand. This novel begins on an absolutely ridiculous level and manages to maintain that for its entire length, which is impressive.

Four years prior to the anaconda fight, a scientific expedition travelled into the Amazon rainforest and lost contact with the outside world. A search party was sent in after them, but the search was unsuccessful and the scientists were presumed dead. The book begins with a member of that original expedition stumbling out of the jungle and into a small village, near death and miraculously no longer an amputee – his missing arm appearing to have grown back. Another search group is formed, consisting of American military personnel and some local scientists, to trace the man’s trail back into the jungle.

This was just so dumb, but it was dumb enough to be fun – the Sharknado of thriller novels. I enjoyed the fact that I often had no idea what was coming next. It’s difficult to know what to expect at each turn when the story is just a steady feed of insane situation after insane situation.

There were some moments where I could see what was coming, and that anticipation was still a fun experience. At one point, when a major twist was revealed at the end of the novel, my mind, now trained for this plot, immediately jumped to what would be the stupidest conclusion. I spent the next chapter hoping it wouldn’t be true, but when the time arrived, not only did he go for it, he exceeded even my expectations.

While I am on board with the over-the-top adventure of this novel, the characters left a lot to be desired. It’s hard to care about any of them. They have interesting jobs, and do interesting things, but they have very little personality. Rollins tries to force you to care about them, but it’s so heavy-handed that it just comes across as silly and tedious. At one point, we learn that the only daughter of one of the scientists is in trouble, and in order to really drive home the gravity of the situation, we’re told that due to a medical issue in her past she can no longer have children. That felt like such a bizarre way to ramp up the tension to me. Are we meant to feel worse about the child possibly dying because, unlike in other families, she can’t easily be replaced?

This was recommended to me by a friend when I mentioned I had read The Lost City of Z, which is an incredibly different book but still revolves around an expedition into the Amazon jungle. This is essentially the Hollywood blockbuster take on what Percy Fawcett may have gone through. It was interesting reading them in this order, as the jungle described by Rollins felt quite different from the descriptions in Fawcett’s journal. As the expedition sets off in this novel, it was mentioned that they didn’t make much food with them. One of the characters explained that food was plentiful in the jungle, to which I gave a very smug ‘nah uh’. Half of the expeditions lead by Fawcett seemed to end with the entire team nearly starving to death. A lot of the life in the jungle lives up in the canopy, which makes it actually quite difficult to scavenge or hunt down below.

I haven’t read many thrillers in the past few years, really just Jurassic Park and its sequel, but I could see myself picking up more of them. Despite its many flaws, I did really have fun with this, although I do wonder if it would still be as fun if the shock of the absurdity was removed.

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