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. Twelve 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 and Gabriel mature; learn a bit more about the different realms, including portals and the Ark of the Covenant; follow as Michael and Gabriel search for their father, another traveler who may actually still be alive; become involved in intrigue and conspiracy within the higher hierarchy of the Brethren; get a more intimate glimpse at the Harlequins Mother Blessing and 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 and 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 (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. Twelve Hawks tells the story through multiple viewpoints, which I felt was done very well in 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 and 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 such as 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 which allowed communication with other realms in The Traveler.
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. It’s your typical middle volume: characters and 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 I still enjoyed The Dark River, I still recommend the book to readers, and I definitely look forward to completing the trilogy.
The Fourth Realm — (2005-2009) Publisher: In the shadows of our modern society, an ancient conflict between good and evil is being fought. A life-and-death battle we will never see, between those who wish to control history and those who will risk their lives for freedom and enlightenment … Los Angeles: A city where you have to work hard to live beneath the surface. Gabriel and Michael Corrigan are trying to do just that. Since childhood, the brothers have been shaped by the stories that their mystical father, a man of strange powers and intuition, has told them about the world in which they live. After his violent death, they have been living ‘off the grid’ — that is, invisible to the intricate surveillance networks that monitor our modern lives. London: Maya, a tough and feisty young woman, is playing at being a citizen, is playing at leading a normal life. But her background is anything but. Trained to fight since she was a young girl, she is the last in a long line whose duty is to protect the gifted among us. When she is summoned to Prague by her ailing father, she learns that Gabriel and Michael’s lives are in danger and are in desperate need of protection. Prague: Nathan Boone, a disciplined and amoral mercenary, watches Maya leave the meeting with her father before brutally killing him. Tasked to hunt down the brothers, he tracks Maya as she seeks to fulfil what turns out to be her father’s last command. When Maya flies to California to find them, an extraordinary chase begins, the final running battle in the war which will reveal the secret history of our time…