John Twelve Hawks: The Golden City (Fourth Realm #3) (Doubleday 2009).
Conspiracy theories are often very popular. Who killed Kennedy? Who killed Marilyn Monroe? Who was behind 9-11? The list goes on and on. John Twelve Hawks see the way the world is progressing towards a more and more surveillance dominated society with no privacy, as one big conspiracy theory. A group of people are trying to achieve world domination by creating a virtual prison where everyone is constantly being watched and nobody steps out of line. Everything is controlled with no room for individuality or any kind of protest against anything. Hawks uses this trilogy to call to arms against the surveillance society, against the Vast Machine.
In the first book, he described how he sees our world and gave us a lot of his thoughts, including an essay about it all, as well as introducing the conspirators and the people fighting against them and the ones capable of saving us all. The second book didn’t really introduce anything new and wasn’t on the same level as the first one. Then along comes book three where everything thrown out there in the first two, have to be pulled together and tied together in a neat bow.
For a book of this type where the author clearly not only has a mission but uses the books, especially this third one, to give a kind of blueprint to how the resistance should be organized, there are a lot of issues that has to avoided for the novel to be successful. The first of these is that even though there is a message, it still has to work as a novel. The second is, that this is a social criticism and not only does the criticism have to be believable – when you come with a solution, it has to be believable as well. I don’t think this book delivers on these issues. I had issues with the second novel where I thought that the author had something he wanted to achieve and then forced his characters to do what he needed to be able to achieve his goal – particularly on one occasion. This novel kind of feels the same way. He clearly has some themes he wants to get around to but he sometimes forget to let the story develop enough to make it realistic. Also, the entire finale – which you expect to be rather big to be able to conclude this trilogy – is preceded by something that is actually more exciting and it’s done in only a few pages and well, it’s kind of let-down. It doesn’t feel believable. Even though he tries to get us to believe why one of the bad guys suddenly switch, it’s not quite convincing enough.
After finishing this last book, I’m also questioning Michael’s development, I’m not sure I buy that he goes this bad. Matthew Corrigan’s storyline isn’t convincing either – and neither is Hollis Wilson’s. And I’m not quite sure I buy the lawlessness of the vigilantes that call themselves Harlequins. I mean, even if you are on the self-appointed good side, you still aren’t allowed to just kill anyone who oppose you. Maya might be the new face of the Harlequins – but the way Mother Blessing, Thorn and others are described, these are not nice persons. They are terrorists who strive after just one thing and don’t care about anything else and they remove whoever stands in their way. Maya, with the help of Gabriel, try to change this and not kill so much – but it doesn’t change that the Harlequins as a group have been a kind of terrorists and it’s exactly to stop people like this, that the Vast Machine, the surveillance cameras and all the other disruptions of our privacy are put in place. Which makes this a never-ending circle.
Okay, I realize I sound rather harsh in this review and it might not sound like I actually liked this entire trilogy or that I gave this final installment three stars. But the most positive thing about these books is that they make you think, and they are rather exciting, for the most part.
One big issue for me is, that there’s no doubt that the Harlequins came before the surveillance systems of the modern world. If the Harlequins always have been something of a terrorist group, it’s no wonder that some people feel we needed the surveillance. So – in a way – the Harlequins are themselves (at least partly) responsible for causing so much trouble, that it was necessary for the authorities to be more watchful.
I still don’t believe that fear can be avoided and safety guaranteed by surveillance – but you have to think why we have it now. And I kind of think John Twelve Hawks haven’t thought it all the way through. But – I still think this trilogy is worth reading, both for it’s own intrinsic qualities but also as a commentary on the current state of our societies.