BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A modern day, sword wielding warrior named Maya is tasked with protecting a Traveler (who is not aware that he may have the ability to travel to other dimensions of reality) from the nefarious Brethren who use high-tech surveillance methods.
PROS: Engrossing; thought-provoking; well-written; excellent pacing; rich setting.
CONS: Minor characters are given back histories that are probably longer than they needed to be.
BOTTOM LINE: A fast, engrossing read that forces you to consider the societal impact of surveillance technology.
The news is riddled with stories about governments taking away civil liberties in the name of protection. Current surveillance capabilities fuel the paranoia even further. But is it paranoia? The Traveler – the first book of The Fourth Realm trilogy – tells a gripping story against a high-tech, high-surveillance society that may make you think twice.
The setting is present day but Earth has a secret history. Only a select few know the truth: that our world exists in the Forth Realm of existence, once of six realms that constitute the true reality. Travelers are people whose neural energy (and consciousness) leaves its Earthly confines to move to these other dimensions. But there aren’t many Travelers left. A malevolent faction calling themselves The Brethren (otherwise known as The Tabula) kill all Travelers because they pose a threat to The Brethren’s ultimate goal: total control over society. How do they do this? They do it through with the technology of The Vast Machine, modern tracking tech that disregards our personal privacy under the guise of government protection. The Travelers are not alone in this ancient battle of good and evil. Sword-wielding warriors known as Harlequins are sworn to protect the Travelers. In John Twelve Hawks’ book The Traveler, a Harlequin named Maya sets out to protect a pair of potential Travelers – brothers Gabriel and Michael (note the biblical names) – who are not aware of the hand fate has dealt them.
Part thriller and part science fiction, The Traveler is a true page-turner. (I know this is an overused phrase, so when I say it, I mean it.) The smooth, easily-digestible prose and engrossing plot make for quick reading. Scenes where the Travelers cross the four boundaries of the elements were cool because they were mystical without being hokey. Even when minor characters are given back histories that are probably longer than they needed to be (my only gripe), it still added to the richness of the setting.
More importantly, the major characters are interesting and realistic. Maya is a sword-wielding, kick-ass femme fatale. Harlequins are not supposed to show any emotional attachment to anyone, lest they let down their guard, but Maya feels the sting of that loneliness nonetheless. She’s tough but human. Although there were some awkward scenes where Maya and Gabriel connected emotionally, they were satisfactorily resolved. We’ll see where the sequel takes them. Gabriel and his brother, Michael – for years living “off the Grid” at the direction of their father who knew the Brethren might try to kill them – wind up taking separate paths that could only be described as Good and Evil. Michael’s manipulation by The Brethren is a good source of suspense, as are the well-written chase scenes, fight sequences and the splash or three of intrigue and misplaced allegiances. Boone, a heartless cleanup man for The Brethren, is just one of the bad guys that I was actively rooting against.
The realistic means of surveillance that permeate the book are a bit too close for comfort. Through purely technological means, The Brethren are able to do some fairly comprehensive spying. Nobody is safe from their reach unless they take extreme measures to hide from The Vast Machine by staying off the grid. Most people in this Orwellian society choose to ignore the capabilities that have stolen away their personal privacy. This passage nicely sums up the book’s fascination with privacy issues.
Maya wondered if citizens made a deliberate attempt to ignore the intrusion. Most of them truly believed that the cameras protected them from criminals and terrorists. They assumed that they were still anonymous when they walked down the street. Only a few people understood the power of the new facial-scanning programs. The moment your face was photographed by a surveillance camera, it could be transformed into a consistent size, contrast and brightness that could be matched against a driver’s license or passport photograph.
Scary stuff. As power begets greed, the Brethren are no longer happy with the mere pervasive and invasive surveillance of society. Now they want to control it completely. (Interestingly, the leaders of the Brethren refer to the Fourth Realm as a Panopticon – a structure in which the people inside cannot see the true reality.) To gain control, they need to harness the energy-channeling powers of the Travelers – a slight deviation from their millennia-old charter of wiping them off the face of the Fourth Realm. So they use the Vast Machine to track down Travelers. Of course you’d think with all this technology at their disposal, The Brethren would be able to come up with a variety of disguises instead of their propensity for using the ubiquitous, out-of-place Power Company trucks they use for spying. Even Maxwell Smart wouldn’t fall for that one. So it goes.
What The Traveler ultimately does is provide a fast, engrossing read that forces you to consider the societal impact of surveillance technology. The satisfying ending sets the stage for a sequel (The Dark River) that I’m eager to read.
Oh, and I should mention John Twelve Hawks’ content-rich website which has lots of places to explore and learn.