The Blood Gospel is James Rollins' first co-authored work, and an entertaining novel. It has all the trappings of a great action-adventure story: a varied team of heroes, including an archaeologist, a soldier, and an agent of the Roman Catholic church; exotic locales; an ancient mystery; and a search for a lost treasure: a gospel written by Jesus himself in his own blood. Sound like typical Rollins fare, doesn't it? Well, the authors have added a twist: vampires (called "strigoi") are real, and some, sustained by trans-substantiated communion wine, serve as "knights" of the church to battle the evil perpetrated by other vampires.
My initial reaction to this premise was to hesitate. I don't mind supernatural elements, and include them in my own work, and I love Rollins' books, but I wasn't sure I wanted to read a vampire story. I kept going with the book, and am pleased I did so. While the strigoi play important roles, the book is still very much a mainstream action-adventure story focusing on the search for the Blood Gospel. In retrospect, if I can enjoy thrillers that presume that everything from Bigfoot, to Nessie, to the Hydra are real, why not vampires (and other, deadly creatures?) I quickly forgot that the strigoi were supposed to be vampires, and thought of them as super-powerful soldiers (and villains) with specific limitations.
The story itself felt a little slow in the first half, but gained momentum in the second. Of the three main characters, only one left a strong impression, but it's hard to judge after the first book of a series. With Rollins' Sigma Force books, we've had several installments to get to know and care about the characters. Rollins and Cantrell make clever use of legend and history, and even throw in one memorable character out of history.
I was a little disappointed in the climactic event. The authors are setting up for future books, and I think they deprived the story of impact with the way they handled it. That's not to say it wasn't worth the read, but I'd have preferred a neater resolution to the conflict, and to enjoy the characters' future exploits, instead of what felt like an incomplete ending. All in all, an entertaining story, and I'll definitely pick up the next book in the series.