The Dark River - John Twelve Hawks

The Dark River (Fourth Realm #2)

by John Twelve Hawks

My first encounter with Twelve Hawks was through Spark, which I found pretty darned awesome, enough so that I decided to try another of his works. My library doesn't have the first in the Fourth Realm trilogy, so I decided to try my luck with the second.

Unfortunately, the book's pair of forewords gave our relationship a rocky start. In the first foreword, Twelve Hawks praises the people who took the message of his book seriously and started fighting the "Vast Machine." In the second, he recaps what happened in the last book. I was taken aback by the first because while I understand the concerns about technology and its misuse, I tend to prefer more subtlety in my authors, and the earnest tone rather suggests tin hats to me. The second one, on the other hand, just pissed me off. I'm of the belief that readers should be able to pick up any book in a series and enjoy the ride. A recap indicates that the author lacks the basic skill of summarizing previous events within the book itself. Certainly no one would accuse Twelve Hawks of subtlety, and given the awkward moments of exposition in The Dark River, maybe he was right to rely on a recap.

Twelve Hawks is an entertaining writer, and I rather like the general idea of his dystopian world controlled by the Vast Machine, but I was rather uncomfortable with the book's uneasy blend of spiritualism, scifi, and Chosen One-style fantasy. Honestly, I think that reading this without the second book may have completely ruined my ability to enjoy the book to the full. The core idea of the series is that there are extra-special beings called the Travelers who have the ability to travel to other worlds (which are pretty crap, by the way) and bring back the wisdom they find there, providing that they manage to find any. They are protected by people who call themselves Harlequins, and opposed by the evil Tabula, who together rule the world via the Vast Machine (aka all technology) which gives them the ability to create a Panopticon Prison. Basically the whole book involves Gabriel, one of the last Travelers, try to escape his brother, who has gone to the Dark Side and joined the Tabula.

I don't like white/black good/evil worlds, and Twelve Hawk's future is pretty simplistic: the Travelers bring Light and Wisdom and Freedom to the world, and the Tabula represent The Evils Of Technology. Amusingly enough, throughout, we are told that Travelers bring progress and change, yet in this book, Gabriel's entire mission is to stop the Tabula from deploying more advanced technology and to keep the advancement of science static. In fact, I honestly don't see why anyone bothers to protect the Travelers, as other than being a bumbling naif, Gabriel doesn't seem to do any good for anyone. In addition, Twelve Hawks must have figured he got all that irritating character development nonsense out of the way in the first book, since he certainly doesn't bother much with it here.

Overall, The Dark River is an entertaining enough book, but it sinks under Twelve Hawk's unsubtle attempts to transform it into something more meaningful. To him, technology by itself is an evil. While I agree that the level of surveillance now available is terrifying, I think Twelve Hawks misses an important point: while technology has provided more ways to control and monitor us, it has also given us more ways to communicate and to monitor our monitors. If you look at the scariest moments in history, it is when people's access to information has been controlled. While every action you make is undoubtedly monitored in some way, we have more access to information and more ways to communicate than ever before.