John Twelve Hawks: The Golden City (Fourth Realm #3)

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.

John Twelve Hawks: The Dark River (Fourth Realm Trilogy #2)

John Twelve Hawks: The Dark River (Fourth Realm Trilogy #2) (Vintage, 2008).

If privacy had a gravestone it might read: ‘Don’t Worry. This Was for Your Own Good.’ (p. 362)
I’m a bit confused. I’m not quite sure what I think about this book and I find it very different from The Traveler, the first book in the trilogy.
Whereas The Traveler had action, it also had some thought behind the action. It went into details with John Twelve Hawks’ thoughts on privacy, surveillance and the world we live in. This book has none of that – except a short speech by Gabriel. When you start reading, the action starts and it doesn’t stop before the book ends.
This is definitely a typical second book in a trilogy – lots of things happen but most of it just build a bridge between the first and the third book. When we start out, our small band of heroes have realized that Michael Corrigan has gone over to the Brethren/the Tabula for good. Maya is still recuperating after the injury she suffered while rescuing Gabriel and Vicki from the Evergreen Foundation’s head quarter.
But soon, the action starts. We’re in New York and the Tabula quickly figure out where Maya, Gabriel and the rest of the group is hiding. During the escape, they become separated and since Gabriel has recently learned that his father is still alive, he decides to travel to London to try and find him. Slowly the rest of the group make their way after him, trying to stay off the Grid and find each other at the same time. Something that gets even harder when Gabriel is able to cross over to other realms …
The entire book is a game of cat-and-mouse. It’s exciting, at times it read a bit like The Da Vinci Code when we get to go to both New York, London, Berlin, Rome and Ethiopia. But whereas the first in the series gave me a lot of food for thought, this didn’t. This is pure action, nothing more.
However – something else happens. There are some true surprises in this book. One important character is introduced – and we loose a couple of important characters. One of these characters is lost in a way that I’m not sure I completely buy. Maya makes a decision that has very serious consequences and leads to the death of one of our main characters. But I’m not sure this decision is completely in character – in some ways it feels a bit like JXIIH had a certain thing he wanted to see happen and the only way he could get it to happen was to remove Maya from the equation for a while. But his way of removing her could have been better. I know this sound rather cryptic but I don’t want to spoil it for anybody reading it.
I enjoyed reading this but it wasn’t as satisfying a read as The Traveler. Hopefully, JXIIH can bring it all together and finish it in a way that lives up to the promises made by the first book

John Twelve Hawks: The Traveller (Fourth Realm Trilogy #1)

John Twelve Hawks: The Traveller (Fourth Realm Trilogy #1) (Corgi Books, 2006).

“Freedom is the biggest myth ever created. It’s a destructive, unachievable goal that has caused a great deal of pain. Very few people can handle freedom. A society is healthy and productive when it’s under control.” (p. 294)
John Twelve Hawks is a man with a mission. He is desperately worried about the state of our society and how we are being monitored more and more with each passing year, how surveillance cameras are being put up everywhere and how our information becomes more and more available to access for more people. His point of view is expressed throughout the novel – but even more clearly in the short essay at the end of the book, ‘How We Live Now’ where he talks about the technology used to monitor us now and how it is used – and sometimes abused. I must admit that his talk about smart surveillance cameras that can scan our faces, compare them to databases, put a name to our face and ‘cry wolf’ if someone walks through a city like London in an unusual way – meaning it will post a warning at a police station or something similar – scared me a bit.
Before reading this book, I felt that if you didn’t have something to hide, then it didn’t matter if you were being photographed. But when reading a book like this, the great bonus is that it makes you think and I don’t care for being photographed and maybe flagged in some way because I don’t walk through a city like everybody else. Of course it’s an invasion of privacy – but it’s also a wish for conformity, an attempt to make us all very similar. And I don’t like that – I like individuality, I like being allowed to stand out if I so wish. Now I know for most of us, we don’t have time to stand out very much in our daily life but I want to be allowed to do so. Not only for my own individual pleasure and joy of life but individuality is also needed to make great discoveries, great advances in science etc. I don’t like the way society seem to be headed, I certainly don’t want my book shopping to be monitored to see if I buy the wrong books, and I do think we’re somewhat overreacting to the threats out there. Of course, the state and the government have to protect us – but the price need to be fair.
Now when reading fiction where the author has such a strong message he wants to come across with, it sometimes hamper the book. And it does that in this one as well. When the action stops and one of the character gives a speech – either one of the good guys against surveillance and ‘big brother is watching’ or one of the bad guys for conformity and constant surveillance, the book slows down and then it picks up pace again when the action continues and there’s no more time for talk.
But even with that being said, I really like the book. Hawks puts a light on our society, the way we live today, and although it’s very black-and-white, it’s still illuminating.
He distinguishes between four categories of people. There are of course the Travellers – these are people who are able to cross between the 6 realms we know of. They can leave their physical body and travel to these other realms and through this, they become very wise. Because Travellers can travel outside this reality, they are able to see the walls of the prison, modern technology and surveillance technology have created. This means that not everyone is happy with them. Therefore, we have the Tabula – or the Brethren, as they call themselves – a group of people who have made it their goal to kill every Traveller. And a group which job has been made so much easier by modern technology – so much easier, that they have almost succeeded in killing off every Traveller – and Harlequins, who are the warriers opposing the tabula. The Harlequins see it as their goal to protect the Travellers and try to keep off the grid, to live as random as possible (along the same lines as in Luke Rhinehart‘s book The Dice Man). The fourth group is the rest of us – the citizens, as the Harlequins (somewhat contemptuously) call us.
In this first installment in the Fourth Realm Trilogy we meet all four groups. Maya is a young woman whose father, Thorn, is a Harlequin. Maya has tried to leave that life behind but when her father is brutally killed, she decides to do the last thing he asked of her – to go to USA and protect two young men, Michael and Gabriel, whose father was a Traveller and who might be Travellers themselves. Getting there is rather difficult and when finally there, she discovers that one of the brothers, Michael, has already been taken by the Tabula.
This is in a lot of ways a standard action book with lots of fighting, travelling, hiding, finding people that can help and staying out of danger – but with the added plot of a group of people who wants to take control of everything and everyone and two other groups opposing these.
When this book was published in 2005, there was a lot of hype about it. Mostly because no one know who the author really is. There are small pieces of information about ‘him’ that people have tried to piece together to guess who ‘he’ is (guesses have been Stephen King, Michael Cunningham and more) but no one knows for sure still. In the essay at the end he writes I feel strongly about the growing power of computer monitoring systems, and that belief has a great deal to do with my decision to retain a private life – even when dealing with my agent and publisher. It seemed hypocritical for an author to attack the loss of privacy in our society and then display his personal life to promote a book.” (p. 598-599). As I see it, either he is a already know author who uses this pseudonym to write a totally different type of books and the whole thing is a construct, or he is a truly idealistic person who feels very strongly about this. In either case, we might never learn who he is.