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Monday, September 7, 2009

“The Golden City” by John Twelve Hawks (Reviewed by Robert Thompson + Mihir Wanchoo)

Official John Twelve Hawks Website
Official We Speak For Freedom Website
Order “The Golden CityHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “The Dark River

AUTHOR INFORMATION: John Twelve Hawks is the author of the Fourth Realm Trilogy, which has been optioned for a major motion picture by 20th Century Fox to be developed by the producers of the Bourne trilogy. John Twelve Hawks lives off the grid.

PLOT SUMMARY:The Golden City” delivers the climax to the epic Fourth Realm Trilogy—a story that began “off the Grid” in Los Angeles and has taken readers on a wild ride from the underground tunnels of New York to the secret ruins buried beneath the streets of Rome and Berlin.

At the heart of the trilogy rages a battle between the Corrigan brothers, two charismatic leaders and Travelers—the name given to certain prophets with the ability to change the course of history, for better or for worse—who have drastically different visions for society.

While Gabriel struggles to lead the Resistance movement intent on bringing enlightenment to the world, his Machiavellian brother, Michael, plots for control of the powerful organization known as the Brethren, and an advanced technology that would give him the power to turn our society into a virtual prison.

Gabriel’s vulnerability, and his greatest strength, is his love for Maya, the Harlequin warrior trapped in a dark city from which there is little hope of escape...

CLASSIFICATION: The Fourth Realm Trilogy is a series of near-future/contemporary mainstream thrillers that mix Orwellian themes, parallel realities and advanced technology with historical mysteries and martial arts action. Personally, the books have brought to mind everything from The Matrix and 1984 to Dan Brown and Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, but I’ve also heard comparisons to V For Vendetta, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and Michael Crichton...

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 358 pages divided over forty-five numbered chapters and a Prelude. Narration is in the third-person alternating between Michael Corrigan, Gabriel Corrigan, Maya, Hollis Wilson, Nathan Boone and a few other minor characters. Since “The Golden City” is the final chapter in the Fourth Realm Trilogy, it’s highly recommended that readers complete “The Traveler” and “The Dark River” before starting this book. Despite concluding the trilogy however, the novel does leave open the possibility for future sequels...

September 8, 2009 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “The Golden City” via Doubleday. Jacket designed by Michael J. Windsor. The UK edition will be published by Bantam Press on March 11, 2010.

ROBERT’S ANALYSIS: Like many readers, I was blown away by John Twelve Hawks’ debut, “The Traveler”, when it came out in 2005, and had high expectations for the rest of the series. Unfortunately, like many readers, I was also disappointed by the sequel released two years later. Despite my disappointment, I still looked forward to completing the trilogy and hoped that “The Golden City” would recapture the magic of the first book. Sadly, that is not the case...

The biggest problem I had with “The Golden City” was Mr. Hawks’ writing. Now I don’t know if it’s because my tastes have evolved, that I’ve grown more critical after writing so many book reviews, or a combination of the two, but I was bothered by issues that I didn’t really notice in the first two Fourth Realm novels. For one, I found the prose to be incredibly boring. From a descriptive standpoint, the author does a decent job of describing things in the book, but he just does it in a manner that lacks any sort of flair:

The city consisted of three massive structures built on ascending terraces. Each building had a rectangular base, as white as a block of sugar, with thirty-three floors of windows. Golden towers rose from the roof of each base. Some were simple cylindrical shapes, but there were also domes, minarets, and an elaborate pagoda.”

In addition to the dry prose, the dialogue was mechanical and at times a bit preachy—chiefly the speeches delivered by Michael and Gabriel—and the characterization was flat. “You’re a cardboard box with nothing inside” I thought was a particularly amusing sentence found late in the book because it summed up exactly how I felt about the characters in “The Golden City”—one-dimensional cardborad cutous that I had absolutely no feelings for. This was a shame too because Maya, Hollis Wilson and Nathan Boone undergo some interesting changes in the novel. Another thing I disliked about the characters was their lack of personality and how they all basically had the same narrative voice, even twelve-year-old Alice Chen.

Plot-wise, there’s a lot going on in “The Golden City”. Maya is still trapped in the First Realm (also known as Hades, Sheol, or Hell), the Corrigans’ father is still missing, Hollis is seeking vengeance against the Tabula and travels to Japan to find an Itaka—someone who speaks to the dead, Michael conspires to take over the Brethren, and the Brethren’s plan for a virtual Panopticon is fully set in motion. Throw in subplots involving Nathan Boone, a dangerous serial killer, Alice Chen, the fabled Golden City, a hacker named Nighthawk, the Crossover Project, and more, and the truth of the matter is there’s just too much going on, especially for a novel that’s not even 400 pages long. As a result, the entire book feels underdeveloped, like the author is just rushing from one scene to the next as quickly as possible so he could fit everything he wanted to in the novel. On the bright side, the pacing is quick and it doesn’t take long to finish the book.

As far as wrapping up the series, “The Golden City” does a fair job of answering questions and tying up loose ends, although a couple of the novel’s climactic moments were quite underwhelming, in particular the scene involving the Corrigans’ father and the final confrontation between the brothers...

Thankfully, “The Golden City” isn’t all negative. The concept of Travelers and Harlequins is still cool even though there wasn’t enough action in the book; readers will get to visit a lot more of the parallel realities including the Fifth and Sixth Realms, the former of which has instituted their own working Panopticon (visiting this Realm was one of the highlights of the novel); the whole Vast Machine/dystopian theme is still frighteningly relevant even if parts of the presentation felt outdated; and I loved how the book took place all over the world (Berlin, New York City, London, Skellig Columba, Japan, Egypt, Mt. Sinai, Thailand, Los Angeles) with little nuggets of historical and cultural information sprinkled in at every locale. Plus, it’s always gratifying to finish reading a series. Unfortunately, all of this wasn’t nearly enough to offset the book’s myriad problems.

In the end, John Twelve Hawks’The Golden City” never comes close to recapturing the magic and excitement of “The Traveler”, and is a disappointing conclusion to the Fourth Realm Trilogy...

MIHIR’S ANALYSIS:The Golden City is the third and final volume of The Fourth Realm Trilogy by John Twelve Hawks. The author name is supposed to be either a pseudonym for a famous writer or just a name used by someone who wants to keep his anonymity. When the first book, “The Traveler”, came out in 2005, it was surrounded by a lot of mystique which intrigued me enough to give the book a try. I liked it a lot with the storyline introducing the readers to the world of the Tabula/Brethren, Travelers & Harlequins. The basic premise in the tale was that almost every other prophet in the history of mankind has been a Traveler—basically a person who can leave their bodies behind and visit different metaphysical realms to gain wisdom & powers by which they try to alleviate suffering of this world and encourage mankind onto a better path. The Tabula/Brethren are an organization with plans to save mankind by installing a worldwide “Panopticon” model & thereby shepherding mankind to the future as decided by the upper echelons of the Brethren.

The first book introduced us to the Corrigan brothers (Gabriel & Michael) who had, due to their father’s disappearance, a very rough childhood. The brothers have taken different routes in their life to reach their individualistic outlooks. Maya meanwhile, is the Anglo-Sikh daughter of a Harlequin and has been unconsciously, as well as consciously, trained to become a Harlequin—guardians of the Travelers. The first book expounded on these three characters along with conflict in the world between the Tabula and the Harlequins. The second book in the trilogy, “The Dark River”, showed us about the true powers of a Traveler as both Gabriel & Michael travel to other realms, albeit with different intentions. Maya also grew in to her role as Gabriel’s protector. There are other characters, who also come into their own as mentioned by Mr. Robert in his part of the review.

I had liked the first two books in the trilogy a lot and the cliffhanger at the end of the second volume set up my expectation quite high for the ending volume. However, as I read and finished the last book, my expectations were soured. “The Golden City” does have a climax, however it is not one the readers have been led to believe. The brothers do have their individual discoveries and their climactic battle as well, however something seemed tremendously off about this novel. The characters in the end have become somewhat of a mouthpiece for the author’s thoughts. Whether this was on purpose or coincidental is for the readers to read & form their opinions about. The book though does race to the ending and there are no scenes in which the story isn’t pushed forward to its conclusion. In the end, all I can say is that while this trilogy began with a “Matrix with Mysticism” premise and showed lots of potential within the first two books, it failed to deliver in the end as it transformed from an action epic to a story about the dangers of the loss of personal freedom. I wouldn’t have had a problem with it had the author tried to insert his thoughts in a much more subtle manner and continued his trend from the earlier books. Readers looking for closure to the tale begun in “The Traveler” will get it, however their expectations may not be entirely met...


Harry Markov said...

That has to be quite disappointing. The world building sounded brilliant, but I am against stale prose and this one sounds like one as well as pacing issues.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with this review--nice job.


Robert said...

Thanks Jeff :) Harry, it was disappointing, but I would still recommend checking out The Traveler if you haven't yet. It's a really good read, and who knows, maybe you won't have the same issues with the sequels as I did ;)

Paula said...

The reviews helped clarify what I felt about the first two books. The prose and characterization became flat, while the story was interesting. I tend toward character-driven books, which explains why I liken the second book to a balloon with its air let out. I'm curious enough to find out how the story ends, though. Thanks for the insights.

Robert said...

You're welcome Paula :) We hope you enjoy The Golden City!

Charla said...

I disagree with some of the comments I read. After I read "The Golden City" I reread the first two books. I thought they were really good & I was impressed with all the insight that was given about the loss of our freedom. I am just disappointed there is not a 4th book.

Anonymous said...

The Fourth Realm trilogy is what happens when you have a semi-interesting concept but never developing it into your own completely separate original thing by cashing in on The Matrix/Kill Bill genre. The author became too overly ambitious and it shows. If he really didn’t want to continue the story, then he should’ve shared the IP with a successor who had more interesting and original ideas as to where to take the story. Not half-ass his other two books and turn his characters into one-dimensional clichés while writing the worst ending over since GOT season eight. Also, Maya deserved a better character arc than her being reduced to her male love interests’ pregnant housewife while he takes all the credit and GHOSTS everyone he cares about. Gabe’s ‘sacrifice’ is non-sensical and ridiculous and could have been easily avoided with Gabe killing his own brother to save humanity. But I guess for a character whose supposedly the “good brother”, it’s very telling Gabe would still keep Michael alive and damn future generations of his wrath if Michael were to ever escape from the realms than actually more morally complex decisions to save humanity. What a true hero-!
If John cares more about his political views more than telling a story, he should have become a politician. I agree with this review. It’s disappointing to say the least.

Anonymous said...

This is going to be my final comment and then I’m moving on from this completely. I just think the Fourth Realm trilogy has a lot of wasted potential and I think John relies way too much on clichés and tropes to keep the story going. It’s so depressing coming from a former fan who actually liked the first book despite its flaws.
I think John obsesses way too much on the theme of surveillance over trying to do something new by telling an inventive story. The trilogy can be summed up into this: disappointing and with a lot of wasted potential.

John does nothing interesting in reality when it comes to the whole Buddhist mythology influence or how the supposed urban setting plays into that. He doesn’t even do anything with any of his character symbolisms. Maya - “illusion”. Gabe and Mike are named after literal angels. The material gold, in reference to Michael’s talisman, is a reference to Sun gods like Apollo. It’s not even like that symbolism comes into play when it comes to the realm of the Golden City. Jade, Gabe’s Talisman, is symbolic of the living and dead.

If Maya has to have some sort of color symbolism relating to her, it would be the color red considering the whole “Damn the Blood” line.

I am not saying the Trilogy should’ve been Neil Gaiman or Game of Thrones levels of good. I’m just saying there’s a lot of wasted potential of what could’ve been. The only reason why I was semi-harsh was because I was just depressed at how the story developed.

Anyways, I’m done with this.


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