(2009) John Twelve Hawks, Bantam, £7.99, 489pp, ISBN 978-0-552-15336-2
This the first (2010) British mass market paperback release of The Golden City which is the final part of the 'Fourth Realm' trilogy, that started with The Traveller and was continued with The Dark River.
The problem with any series is ensuring that the reader who comes in part way through is not disadvantaged. This can be overcome with the likes of a foreword, an introduction, or, as in this book, filling in any necessary details as the story goes along. Whilst I might well have had a better knowledge of the concepts of the realms and a deeper understanding of the characters had I read the earlier books, I did not feel that anything was obviously missing.
I mentioned realms: there are six of them. The first is 'Hell': a decaying city where everyone ends up dying a nasty death. The second is not described though the third is an Eden populated only by animals. The human race lives in the fourth, the Half Gods in the fifth, and the Gods in the sixth. There are places where the realms touch and people can go between them; though these passageways have mostly been forgotten or deliberately hidden. Then there are the Travellers: there have always been a few unusual people who do not need to find the passageways but who can simply direct their Light to leave their bodies and travel straight to the other realms. (Their 'Light' seems to equate to their soul, for lack of a better term.)
Gabriel and Michael Corrigan are two such Travellers, the 'good' and 'bad' brother respectively. Gabriel believes in freedom and personal choice whereas Michael believes that society needs to be controlled (and he is the guy to do it). This story tells the last part of their battle.
Throughout history many rulers and governments have tried to tightly control their subjects and citizens, and in this day and age there is much technology to help them do so. Closed circuit television, credit cards, customer loyalty schemes, phone records, GPS systems, massive databases, etc., etc., allow those who control them unprecedented access to personal information and the understanding of each individual. The Brethren, a secret international group of powerful people, have long cherished the idea of controlling the world; not running it themselves you understand, but ensuring that everything about it is orderly and running well, that the peoples of all nations do as required, that they buy the right products, in short that they are totally regulated in every way whilst still believing that they enjoy freedom. By linking all the modern data capturing systems together, they have created the Vast Machine and there is little true privacy. To help them in their activities the Brethren have their 'troops'; the Tabula are the assassins and thugs that make sure that things happen their way, that certain people are silenced, that certain deeds are done.
Gabriel is well aware of the Vast Machine and is trying to fight it, to make the world aware of its insidious tentacles. To help him in this task are the Free Runners, people who are also aware of these dangers and concerned enough about it to want to do something. Meanwhile, Michael has joined the Brethren and is working his way up to its top, intent on being its leader.
The next major player is Maya. She is a Harlequin, a person who has dedicated her life to protecting Travellers from those that would do them harm; in her case this means protecting Gabriel. Then there is Hollis Wilson. He hangs out with Gabriel and Maya though he is on a path of his own.
Although this version is the British publication, it has not been 'translated' from the American and there were times when this caused a little jarring. For example, the Millennium Wheel rather than the London Eye, yellow grid lines painted on the (American) pavement rather than on the (British) road, and the Brits apparently routinely add cream to their tea rather than milk!
Between these characters, they travel our world and the other realms. There are reasonable descriptions of all the places they visit and the author seems to have a good grasp of London, Tokyo, and Los Angeles to mention but a few. Yet despite all the locations, the various journeys and personal paths that each character is on, and all the activities they get up to, nearly 500 pages meander along in a pleasant way but without any sense of excitement or adventure or of having achieved anything. The story always feels like it is still waiting to get up steam and, by the very end, it is still merely pedestrian; there was only the one occasion when I found myself sufficiently caught up in the narrative that I just had to turn the page and find out what happened next. Nor is it one of those gentle stories where Little of Great Interest happens yet it provides much pleasure and understanding just through the way it is told. The writing is pleasant and cannot be complained about, it is just that there is no fire in it, there is not enough story, observation of the human condition, or whatever, to justify all those pages. This book did not grab me in any way; it was far too easy to put it down and find something else to do.
According to the cover blurb, this is the new Da Vinci Code. I think not.
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