Saturday, January 03, 2009

A review of "The Dark River (Vintage)"

by John Twelve Hawks

The Dark River is book two in a trilogy by John Twelve Hawks. I’m continuing to enjoy the series. It has suspense, and imaginative turns which I didn’t see coming. We get action in foreign cities, glimpses into covert societies and communities, mysticism, chases, sword fights to the death, and so on. The characters are better fleshed out than in most action/suspense books, although I’d prefer even more depth.

This second book is slightly disappointing compared to the first book in the series, although it only has a few flaws.

First, at a few points, it tries to provide a synopsis or reminder of what occurred in the first book, The Traveler. When I came to those admittedly short parts, I just found them an annoying distraction, a drag on the pace of the story.

Second, this book spent too much time exploring the world of free running, which, in my view, did not really advance the plot. In contrast, I felt that the exploration of an off-the-grid community in the first book made more sense and fit more logically into the book’s ethos.

I have a problem with the story’s MacGuffin, which I ignored in the first book and which became harder to ignore in the second. We keep coming round to the idea that a large nefarious organization is going to “control” everyone by taking away our privacy. There are cameras everywhere, your every action is being tracked, and it is asserted without explanation that this is a terrible thing.

I agree that it’s bad when your landlord plants a camera in your bathroom. But if there are cameras out on the street, how will this impact your actions? There are people out on the street all over the place, ooh, watching you already. A camera is just another eye, and probably an unmonitored one as well. What exactly are we afraid of here?

The novel does very little to explain this. At one point, we see a couple of malicious characters using cameras to track a woman, following her down the street, with the hope that she’ll enter a dressing room in the lingerie section of a department store, where (somehow) they’ll have access to the security cameras there. OK, sleazy behavior like this is a risk when cameras are planted everywhere, and it should be a criminal offense to plant cameras in dressing rooms, anyway (it’s not). Is this behavior a threat to civilization? No.

To enjoy the novel, you just have to let the motivation slide. Our heroes are fighting a big bad organization, with lots of murder on both sides, to protect you from Peeping Toms (admittedly, I am exaggerating here). That’s the big problem but if you can ignore it, then the book is a lot of fun. There’s another MacGuffin involving a quantum computer which struck me as a lot more interesting than the “big brother is invading your privacy” bogeyman, but it didn’t get so much attention in the second book. In any case, I am looking forward to the third book.


Amanda said...


I work for Regal Literary, the literary agency that represents John Twelve Hawks. We noticed your interest in John's previous novels and want you to know we’re giving away free copies of THE GOLDEN CITY now to bloggers who have written about John’s work. We're also running a special contest in which on blogger will win an exclusive phone interview with John himself. To get yours, please contact me directly at with your mailing address.

Look forward to hearing from you,

md said...

Is this comment spam?

md said...

Wow, so, this was not comment spam!

I received a copy of The Golden City last week... I'm right in the middle of re-reading The Traveler, but I'm eager to get started on the new book.

Thanks, Amanda!