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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

"The Dark River" by John Twelve Hawks

Official John Twelve Hawks Website
Order “The Dark RiverHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

In 2005, an enigmatic author by the name of John Twelve Hawks – a writer who supposedly lives ‘off the grid’ – delivered one of the most hyped novels of the year, the critically-acclaimed, New York Times Bestselling debut “The Traveler”. In that book, readers were introduced to a chillingly familiar world ‘inspired by the modern technology that monitors our lives’, where Travelers – individuals who possess the ability to send their conscious energy (“Light”) to other realms where they gain insights into transforming the world – and Harlequins (sworn to protect the lives of Travelers) oppose their mortal enemies the Brethren (also known as the Tabula) and their quest for a virtual Panopticon – an invisible prison where the population would assume that they were being watched at all times and therefore would automatically follow the rules.

Two years later, Mr. Hawks has returned with “The Dark River”, the follow-up to "The Traveler” and the second volume in the Fourth Realm Trilogy. In “The Dark River”, readers will once again join Maya, a reluctant Harlequin who must battle more than just the Tabula to keep everyone alive; Gabriel Corrigan, one of the last remaining Travelers and Maya’s ward; Michael Corrigan, Gabriel’s older brother and fellow Traveler who has sided with the Brethren, though for his own reasons; Nathan Boone, the relentless Brethren Head of Security; Victory From Sin Fraser (Vicki), a member of the Church of Isaac T. Jones who believes in Debt Not Paid; and Hollis Wilson, a former martial arts teacher who has embraced the Harlequin way. Among the storylines that are developed in “The Dark River”, we’ll get to see the relationship between Maya & Gabriel mature; learn a bit more about the different realms, including portals and the Ark of the Covenant; follow as Michael & Gabriel search for their father, another traveler who may actually still be alive; become involved in intrigue & conspiracy within the higher hierarchy of the Brethren; get a more intimate glimpse at the Harlequins Mother Blessing & Linden; join with Free Runners whose lifestyle is all about breaking free from the Vast Machine; and watch as the Brethren take a huge step forward in seeing their virtual Panopticon become a reality…

In any trilogy, there are certain protocols that must be followed. Usually the opening volume lays down the groundwork for the entire series, establishing characters, the milieu and so forth. Volume two, often considered the weakest of the three (though there are exceptions), normally progresses the story and ramps up the tension, but leaves all of the major resolutions for the concluding chapter. “The Dark River” is very much a middle volume and I’m not surprised that the book wasn’t as effective as its predecessor. For one, the whole concept of Travelers & Harlequins seemed to lose its novelty in “The Dark River”, partly because the lore had already been established, and partly because John Twelve Hawks doesn’t really do anything new with them. For instance, there’s very little ‘traveling’ in the book, and while we get to see the author’s despairing vision of hell, we don’t learn very much about the other realms. As far as the Harlequins, Maya just doesn’t seem to fit my perception of how a true Harlequin would behave, which she isn’t really, and that was reinforced by the introduction of Mother Blessing, one of the surprising highlights of “The Dark River”.

Another problem I had with the book was the characterization. Mr. Hawks tells the story through multiple viewpoints, which I felt was done very well in the “The Traveler”, but in “The Dark River” it just wasn’t as strong. When it came to the novel’s death scenes of major players the moments lacked any real emotional punch, while some of the more interesting characters like Vicki, Hollis, Nathan and Kennard Nash were either underutilized or underwent transformations that weren’t developed as well as they could have been. Then there was the whole Ark of Covenant scenario that seemed to come straight out of a Dan Brown novel. Normally I enjoy stories of this nature, but there wasn’t very much time or historical research dedicated to the Ark plot line, and the number of coincidences that pop up regarding its existence were just a bit too much to swallow. Finally, I thought that the technological & thematic aspects of “The Dark River” were a bit lacking when compared to “The Traveler”. Once again, it could be the novelty factor in play, but splicers (genetically altered creatures), the Carnivore computer program and other concepts like the Panopticon just didn’t seem as interesting the second time around. There were a few new ideas instituted in the book like the “Shadow Program”, zombies (viruses that allow outside users to control a computer) and Pre-Traumatic Stress pills (PTS) that I found intriguing for their possible application in real life, but nothing that was quite as fascinating as the quantum computer in “The Traveler”, which allowed communication with other realms.

As a whole, I thought “The Dark River” was a flawed affair that wasn’t as compelling or entertaining as “The Traveler”. To be fair though, I thought “The Traveler” was an outstanding work of fiction, probably one of my top picks of 2005 and one of the better debuts that I’ve read, so compared to that novel, it was perhaps a little unfair to expect “The Dark River” to measure up to the same standards. That said, “The Dark River” is hardly a bad book. As I explained before, it’s your typical middle volume: characters & storylines continue to develop, conflicts escalate, new elements are introduced, and a major cliffhanger ends the book. So, for what it is, “The Dark River” does its duty quite admirably in setting up the final chapter of the Fourth Realm Trilogy and is a solid follow-up to “The Traveler”. Sure, I wish the characterization had been better executed, that we would have learned more about the six realms, that the moments involving the Ark had been further developed, and so on, but to be honest, I still enjoyed “The Dark River”, I still recommend the book to readers, and I definitely look forward to completing the trilogy…

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

hit the nail on the head

stockholm said...

I read both books, too. I think you miss the whole point of the story. these books are not about introducing new ideas and novel ways of being paranoid, but show rather real threads and developments. The panopticum is taking form everywhere and the great firewall of china is actually a great example of how it works today and here.

Robert said...

Stockholm, thanks for your thoughts. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not as up-to-date with real-world events as I should be, but I was still able to get what Mr. Hawks was talking about with his books.

That said, as much as the series draws from ideas/concept in our world, it's still fiction and it still employs ideas that would be considered fantastical. So, my whole point with the review is that "The Dark River" wasn't as strong or as enjoyable as "The Traveler", and the ideas/concepts was just a part of that, along with the characterization and plot...

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