Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Review - The Golden City by John Twelve Hawks

Well, what do people normally write in their first post?

Do they introduce themselves? Tell you what the purpose of the blog is? Write loads of meaningless drivel aimed at hopefully getting you to return to bookmark this page and return every now and again to read more random thoughts and unwitty banter?

If so, then I think I will fit into the blogging world quite nicely. For my first post, I think I'll just go with a book review.

Today's book review is "The Golden City" by John Twelve Hawks.

This book follows the adventures of Maya, Gabriel, and Hollis as they attempt to thwart the establishment of the virtual panopticon as envisioned by the Tabula.

This is the third book in the Fourth Realm trilogy, preceded by "The Traveler," and "The Dark River." Both of these were engaging, fast-paced novels that took some of the more tried and tested themes in science fiction and ushered them in to the 21st century.

In "The Golden City," John Twelve Hawks attempts to not only tie up the loose ends created at the end of "The Dark River," but also to further establish exactly where humanity stands amongst the various realms. In this book we once again visit a very stylized version of hell, a realm of mythical animals completely devoid of human life, the realm of the half-gods, and as the title would indicate, the Golden City.

As Gabriel travels to these various realms, he comes to understand that while the gift of being a traveler could in fact be a gift, it could also (in a plot point reminiscent of the final two Matrix movies) be simply a genetic anomaly that presents itself over and over again throughout the course of human history. It could be that the travelers are not catalysts for change, but are instead an afterthought of nature, genetics gone wrong. It's the decisions that Gabriel makes once he's visited the Golden City and pondered this dilemma that shape his actions back in our realm, the fourth realm.

Maya is also faced with her own string of difficult decisions. She finds that the choices made by her and Gabriel have far reaching consequences (of which Gabriel is apparently never made aware). I think that most interesting throughout the books is the transformation that Maya makes from someone who is in a way a champion of what it means to be human, to someone who comes to understand what exactly humanity is, and thus begins to embrace her own. Maya grows from being millitant and disconnected, to being able to embrace the flaws in others (and herself), and ends this journey as a person who is finally capable of love. It is a journey that we all take to some extent in our lives; hers is particularly interesting as she comes to understand that something she was taught had absolutely no value is the one thing that is truly capable of giving a human's life meaning. Without it we are no different than the animals that the Tabula creates and controls for evil ends.

The themes of not being able to outrun one's past are also present in this book, but the focus shifts from Maya, Gabriel, and Hollis, to that of Nathan Boone. His backstory is truly an interesting (if cliched) one; perhaps it would have been even more engaging had some of these elements of his backstory or his inner struggle been present in book's one or two. However, getting a glimpse into the man who became the monster in book three added a new layer to the central theme of the past shaping the present.

Hollis, as well, is shaped by the choices made in his past. In many ways, he'd been shaping himself to become a Harlequin for years: his lack of connection to any single person or place, his ability to focus on the fight at hand, his balance of renegade and compassion.

His road to becoming a Harlequin takes him all the way to Japan. There, he is reminded by Vicki Frazier of the decision he made about the sort of person he was becoming. It seems that while every Harlequin knows some great love, none are actually allowed to possess it. The contrast of Maya (who was born into this life) and Hollis (who has chosen this life) and the ying & yang of their various journeys played out well in the novel.

They each end up where the other began, but neither of them seem to regret the choices they've made to get them to this point.

And what, you may ask, of Michael Corrigan? As is typical for such villains, their thirst for power and control is usually their undoing. Though in Michael's case, his undoing is not complete; the novel ends in such a way that you are left feeling that John Twelve Hawks fully intends to take up the story of the Travelers and the Tabula again, once some time has passed and the world that Gabriel & Michael have left behind has morphed into something new.

I sincerely hope that he does take up this story again. The story started out as a lot of mayhem and paranoia surrounding the tale of two very different brothers. I think I would like a bit more resolution to the Corrigan's story.

To that end, the introduction of Matthew Corrigan, father to Michael & Gabriel (who incidentally have the names of Archangels - though what significance this has I don't know), was a bit of a disappointment. It seemed that his purpose was to show Gabriel what happened when you lost connection to what really mattered, when you became more interested in asking questions that you were in finding satisfying answers.

Matthew Corrigan had gone to the Golden City and chosen to spend the rest of his life questioning the design and purpose of the universe; somewhere along the way he forgot that knowledge is empty unless it's put to use. Gabriel finds after meeting his father that no one truly has the answers; we have to decide on our own purpose and fulfill it.

It's this struggle between being able to decide for ourselves and having the decision made for us that once again comes into play at the end of the novel. Perhaps it's fitting that as these are questions that mankind has sought to answer for centuries, neither Gabriel nor Michael are clearly victorious at the end of the book. Each is poised to spend the rest of their lives fighting against the other, neither one being victorious over the other. Perhaps this is John Twelve Hawks way of telling us that the answer to this question of choice and control and can never truly be answered. We will always be asking ourselves 'is it better to submit to the will of another, or stumble along in life, on a path of our own creation?'

The Golden City is a very engaging take on this question of choice. Each of the central characters has been shown that they have a choice as to the sort of person they wish to be. Some thought they had no choice, and were shown that they do. Others thought their lives were carefree and could go in any direction they chose. In the end, they grew to understand what it meant to have an obligation.

Perhaps the moral of these stories (if there is one) is that we are all under an obligation to choose; some of us will choose to hold on to freedom and some of us will choose to give that freedom away. But each of us is still given the choice.

I'd highly recommend this series of books by John Twelve Hawks; the books are both entertaining and engaging, and certainly leave you wanting more.