The Dark River, the second book of John Twelve Hawk's Fourth Realm trilogy, is absorbing, thrilling, fascinating, and frightening in its implications. In other words, it's one good read that you won't want to put down.
The series concerns the last of the Travelers, people whose "Light" (read
"soul") can leave their bodies and travel to the other three realms of being (our world being the fourth realm). Travelers are protected by Harlequins, a special class of people who train for combat from childhood, because Travelers tend to become prophets when they return and are therefore hated by those in power. The current cabal calls itself the Brethren.
Since the middle of the 20th century, they have been building the Vast Machine, a network of computers and surveillance cameras that monitor ordinary citizens in the Western
In first book of the series, The Traveler, we met Michael and Gabriel, two young men whose father had been a Traveler but died when they were young. Before their mother dies, she reveals to them who they are, just as the Brethren are trying to find them. Michael is captured, but Gabriel escapes with the help of Maya, one of the last Harlequins.
The Dark River picks up where The Traveler left off. Michael and Gabriel discover their father is still alive and race to find him. Gabriel allies himself with Free Runners of London, a group who run urban obstacle courses for sport and try to live "off the grid" (i.e., out of sight of the Vast Machine). Michael, meanwhile, is insinuating himself into the leadership structure of the Brethren. He began as their prisoner but has gained their trust and now seeks to influence the Brethren for his own ends.
Gabriel comes to believe that his father is trapped in the first realm, that of Hell, so he Travels there and
is caught himself. Maya seeks to help him, while Gabriel's friend Hollis convinces the remaining Harlequins that their strategy of
merely protecting Travelers has failed. They need to take action against the Brethren.
The Dark River takes its time getting to the point of its title, but it is a crackling action story none-the-less. John Twelve Hawks knows how write chase scenes that are suspenseful and cinematic. He has also created interesting sub-cultures for the Travelers and the Harlequins, tying them into historical characters and legends
- the Ark of the Covenant and the sundial of emperor Augustus of Rome make appearances
- to make them plausible.
The Brethren and the Vast Machine are the most believable aspects of these tales. Although our freedom and privacy have not as eroded much as depicted in these stories, Twelve Hawks has
simply extrapolated from the current state of affairs. This element is his wake-up call: watch out
- if Big Brother is not already watching, he will be soon.
The Dark River is a fine middle book of a trilogy, fun and exciting to read. There are major cliffhanger elements, which is both frustrating and admirable. We'll just have to wait on pins and needles for John Twelve Hawks' next installment to find out how they are resolved.