James Rollins’ new fantasy novel, “The Starless Crown,” is set in a mythical world menaced by marauding beasts and threatened by an impending collision with the moon. It is the first installment of a series that was more than eight years in the making, but its roots stretch all the way back to Rollins’ childhood as James Czajkowski, the older brother from hell.
“I had a lot of younger siblings who were the first audience for my storytelling. Basically, I was trying to get them to cry,” said Rollins, who is the third of seven children. “I wanted to terrify them, and if tears were involved, even better. That goal hasn’t changed all that much.”
There is a good reason for that.
Since the publication of his first novel, “Wit’ch Fire” in 1998 (written under the name “James Clemens”), Rollins has become a bestselling author of books designed to raise goosebumps and pulses while occasionally harvesting a tear or two from Rollins’ happily captive audiences.
His bibliography includes the blockbuster “Sigma Force” thriller series; two James Clemens-penned fantasy series (“Banned and Banished” and “Godslayer”); and even a movie novelization of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”
And now there is “The Starless Crown,” the first book in Rollins’ new “Moon Fall” series.
The fantasy novel introduces readers to Nyx, a young woman whose academic life at the Cloistery of Brayk is upended by a swamp-beast attack and a vision of the Moonfall apocalypse. After the vision, Nyx is joined by a band of fellow misfits on a treacherous journey to find her father, avoid a vengeful king and stop the cosmic event that could destroy her universe.
Rollins’ latest also reintroduces readers to an author who is eager to face the world after a cosmic event that has upended our collective universe.
This may be Rollins’ 38th book, but the thrill of sending a new novel out into the world is seismic.
“It does feel momentous, especially coming out of these COVID years, when my books kept getting pushed off,” the 60-year-old Rollins said from his home near Lake Tahoe.
“If you had asked me two years ago, I would have said you get used to having a new book out. But now that it’s been almost two years, there is a sense of excitement and wanting to get back out there again.”
His books have been translated into 40 languages and sold more than 20 million copies, and he has been compared to such giants as Michael Crichton and Dan Brown. But the other thing that hasn’t gotten old for Rollins is the act of writing itself. Perhaps because the first chapter of his working life was devoted to something else entirely.
Rollins was born in Chicago and raised in the Midwest and rural Canada. He inherited a passion for reading from his mother, but in the third grade, he decided he was going to be a veterinarian. And he meant it. Rollins studied veterinary medicine at the University of Missouri, and after graduating, he moved to Sacramento and made good on his elementary-school dream.
Or one of them, anyway.
“I thought there was some sort of genetic code that allowed you to be a writer. I didn’t think anyone could just pick up a pen and write,” Rollins remembered. “I have no formal training in writing. I joined a writing club (in Sacramento) because it was fun. I tried to get published and failed miserably.”
He started writing on his lunch hours at the veterinary clinic, cooking up tales of mysterious mummies, intrepid witches and ecological disasters while dogs and cats barked and meowed in the background. He got better at writing, and he began getting published. In 2001, he made it his full-time career.
“I read somewhere that you should expect to have five books on shelves before giving up your day job,” Rollins said. “By the time I stepped fully away, I had five books. I was literally the rule of thumb.”
While “The Starless Crown” was published just this week, Rollins has already moved on to the next book. And the next scare. Are you ready?
“The next ‘Sigma Force’ book is all about viruses,” Rollins said of “Kingdom of Bones,” which debuts on April 19. “I pitched it before COVID, and I had to tweak it a bit because I didn’t want it to be a pandemic novel. It is less about a pandemic and more about their biology of viruses. Still, that was weird.”