A Review of “The Dark River”

The Dark River (Fourth Realm, #2)The Dark River by John Twelve Hawks
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Remember when Michael Jordan retired? I mean, the first time? He made that amazing, game-winning shot, and left at the top of his game. When he returned from retirement, I was disappointed. I felt it would be almost impossible for him to improve on his amazing success.

John Twelve Hawks’ first book in the Fourth Realm Trilogy, The Traveler, was suggested to me by a friend and fellow science-fiction lover. I was immediately impressed with the freshness of the idea,  and completely plausible near-future, surveillance society dystopia in which the characters struggled to survive. The conflict between the Harlequins and Brethren was gripping, and some fascinating metaphysical questions were raised. The action was not overstated, and the characters engaging. The originality of the premise kept me turning pages, eager for more.

Of course, this review isn’t about The Traveler, but rather about it’s sequel, The Dark River. Which is a shame, because there was so much to say about The Traveler, and only one striking thing to say about The Dark River: Like Jordan, Hawks should have stopped when he was on top. The Dark River is a profound disappointment on so many levels. The novel reads more like a script for a Hollywood sequel, picking up where the The Traveler left off, but capitalizing only on the fact that we wanted to know what would happen to Gabriel, Maya, and the rest of his characters. No new twists to Hawks’ fictional world are presented until the end, and then in such a way as to make the reader think he was hastily throwing together a mish-mash of world religions to perpetuate his nebulous ideas and intentionally leave a cheap cliff-hanger ending so as to keep the reader returning for the third book in the series.

The book isn’t all bad. Hawks does develop his characters a bit, but it is difficult to do as violent action sequences begin with the first five pages and don’t stop until the final scene. The development that does occur feels forced and formulaic at times. In short, The Dark River left me with the same impression as one gets when an excellent and original feature film is turned into a television series for continued profit. There really isn’t much here that’s new, only a continuation of the same ideas that leads to different spectacular fights and occasional intrigue.

For this series to take such an enormous fall in quality between the two novels is astoundingly disappointing. So disappointing that I likely won’t be returning for the third book. The epic shot was made at the end of the first, and I prefer to remember the series as it was when it was on top of it’s game.

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