The Dark River by John Twelve Hawks

darkriver.jpgWhen the first book in this series, The Traveler, was released much of the discussion centered around marketing and the author’s “off the grid” status. And the marketing and hype worked to a degree. The book got a lot of press and made it into the New York Times bestseller list, but it never achieved the “breakaway hit status” the publishers had hoped for.

It seems the publishers decided to take a slightly different approach for the second book in this planed trilogy The Dark River. As far as I can tell, there hasn’t been as big a marketing splash this time around. Although they have once again set up an interactive web site. Of course, marketing for the first book in a series is bound to be different than that of the second.

Enough about marketing, what about the book itself? Well, I think the second book is better than the first. The characters are a little more developed and the plot is more involved. It does, however, have the problem that all middle trilogy books seem to have in that the story line seems to build only to leave the reader hanging for the final book.

For more details, and possible spoilers, see below.

If you recall, the first book laid out the forces of good and evil involved in the series:

First you have the Travelers. These are “an elite group of prophets able to attain pure enlightenment.” Think Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, etc. Then there are the Harlequins, “a band of warriors pledged to protect the Travelers at all costs.” Lastly there are the Tabula, or the Brethren, “ruthless men who are determined to inflict order on the world by invisibly controlling its population” and sworn enemies of the Travelers and thus the Harlequin.

Modern technology and the evermore connected world has given the Tabula the upper hand and they have hunted down and killed most of the Travelers and Harlequins. Enter Maya a former Harlequin who has chosen to reject the life her father had trained her for in order to become a designer in London. But when her aging father asks for her help, and ends up brutally murdered, she is pulled back in to the secret and dangerous life of protecting Travelers. The suspected Travelers are Gabriel and Michael Corrigan. Maya travels to California to try and protect them. At the same time the Tabula are searching for both the Corrigan brothers and Maya.

The first book ends with Maya attacking the Brethren and destroying their computer center but barely escaping with her life. The second book picks up with Gabriel nursing Maya back to health and his brother Michael choosing to join the Tabula and use his Traveler status as a way to gain power.

The big news in the second book is that Michael and Gabriel’s father, long thought dead, is in fact alive. Another important part of the story line is the growing romantic relationship between Gabriel and Maya. The book basically follows the two Travelers as they seek to find their father and find away to use hime to their advantage. Michael begins to gain power within the Brethren while Gabriel must rally his friends to help him stop his brother. Maya must protect Gabriel while coming to term with her feelings about him.

One of the more interesting aspects of the book involves travel to another “realm.” Part of being a Traveler is the ability to leave your body and visit “different realms of consciousness.” When the brother’s each find their father they discover that he is trapped in another realm. His body is alive almost in a sort of suspended animation. Gabriel decides he must find his father in this other realm in order to set him free.

The other realm Gabriel finds is a dark purgatory like place where humans are trapped on an island beside the dark river from the title. This world is devoid of the emotions and virtues that make life livable: hope, love, loyalty, etc. Instead, it is a bloody Hobbesian world of man against man; picture an urban Lord of the Flies like setting.

Gabriel finds himself trapped in this world wondering if he will share his father’s fate. Remarkably out of love and loyalty to him, and with the help of some ancient Roman ruins and Ethiopian priests, Maya finds a way to travel to this realm and rescue Gabriel. The question left at the end of the book is whether Maya will survive. I found this part of the book the most interesting. The dark gritty setting and the air of mystery and tension made for fascinating reading.

Overall, I would have to say that The Dark River is an entertaining and imaginative mix of genres: part techno thriller, part of science fiction/fantasy, and part political intrigue. I find the political aspects of it rather bland and some of the sci-fi stuff a little thin at times, but Hawks does manage to weave it all together in an entertaining way. As a result it makes for good summer reading.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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