The Golden City: A disappointing conclusion

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews John Twelve Hawks The Fourth Realm 3. The Golden CityThe Golden City by John Twelve Hawks

PLOT SUMMARY: The Golden City delivers the climax to the epic FOURTH REALM TRILOGY, a story that began “off the Grid” in Los Angeles and has taken readers on a wild ride from the underground tunnels of New York to the secret ruins buried beneath the streets of Rome and Berlin.
At the heart of the trilogy rages a battle between the Corrigan brothers, two charismatic leaders and Travelers — the name given to certain prophets with the ability to change the course of history, for better or for worse — who have drastically different visions for society.
While Gabriel struggles to lead the Resistance movement intent on bringing enlightenment to the world, his Machiavellian brother, Michael, plots for control of the powerful organization known as the Brethren, and an advanced technology that would give him the power to turn our society into a virtual prison.
Gabriel’s vulnerability, and his greatest strength, is his love for Maya, the Harlequin warrior trapped in a dark city from which there is little hope of escape.

CLASSIFICATION: The FOURTH REALM TRILOGY is a series of near-future/contemporary mainstream thrillers that mix Orwellian themes, parallel realities, and advanced technology with historical mysteries and martial arts action. Personally, the books have brought to mind everything from The Matrix and 1984 to Dan Brown and Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, but I’ve also heard comparisons to V for Vendetta ,Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy, and Michael Crichton.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 358 pages divided over 45 numbered chapters and a prelude. Narration is in the third-person alternating between Michael Corrigan, Gabriel Corrigan, Maya, Hollis Wilson, Nathan Boone and a few other minor characters. Since The Golden City is the final chapter in the FOURTH REALM TRILOGY, it’s highly recommend that readers complete The Traveler and The Dark River before starting this book. Despite concluding the trilogy however, the novel does leave open the possibility for future sequels.

September 8, 2009 marks the North American Hardcover publication of The Golden City via Doubleday. The jacket was designed by Michael J. Windsor. The UK edition will be published by Bantam Press on March 11, 2010.

ROBERT’S ANALYSIS: Like many readers, I was blown away by John Twelve Hawks’ debut, The Traveler, when it came out in 2005, and had high expectations for the rest of the series. Unfortunately, like many readers, I was also disappointed by the sequel (The Dark River) released two years later. Despite my disappointment, I still looked forward to completing the trilogy and hoped that The Golden City would recapture the magic of the first book. Sadly, that is not the case.

The biggest problem I had with The Golden City was John Twelve Hawks’ writing. I don’t know if this is because my tastes have evolved, or that I’ve grown more critical after writing so many book reviews, or a combination of the two, but I was bothered by issues that I didn’t really notice in the first two FOURTH REALM novels. For one, I found the prose to be incredibly boring. From a descriptive standpoint, Twelve Hawks does a decent job of describing things in the book, but he just does it in a manner that lacks any sort of flair:

The city consisted of three massive structures built on ascending terraces. Each building had a rectangular base, as white as a block of sugar, with thirty-three floors of windows. Golden towers rose from the roof of each base. Some were simple cylindrical shapes, but there were also domes, minarets, and an elaborate pagoda.

In addition to the dry prose, the dialogue — chiefly the speeches delivered by Michael and Gabriel — was mechanical and at times a bit preachy, and the characterization was flat. I thought “You’re a cardboard box with nothing inside” was a particularly amusing sentence found late in the book, because it summed up exactly how I felt about the characters in The Golden City: one-dimensional cardboard cutouts that I had absolutely no feelings for. This was also a shame because Maya, Hollis Wilson, and Nathan Boone undergo some interesting changes in the novel. Another thing I disliked about the characters was their lack of personality and how they all basically had the same narrative voice, even twelve-year-old Alice Chen.

Plot-wise, there’s a lot going on in The Golden City. Maya is still trapped in the First Realm (also known as Hades, Sheol, or Hell), the Corrigans’ father is still missing, Hollis is seeking vengeance against the Tabula and travels to Japan to find an Itaka (someone who speaks to the dead), Michael conspires to take over the Brethren, and the Brethren’s plan for a virtual Panopticon is fully set in motion. Throw in subplots involving Nathan Boone, a dangerous serial killer, Alice Chen, the fabled Golden City, a hacker named Nighthawk, the Crossover Project, and more, and the truth of the matter is there’s just too much going on, especially for a novel that’s not even 400 pages long. As a result, the entire book feels underdeveloped, like Twelve Hawks is just rushing from one scene to the next as quickly as possible so he could fit everything he wanted to in the novel. On the bright side, the pacing is quick and it doesn’t take long to finish the book.

As far as wrapping up the series, The Golden City does a fair job of answering questions and tying up loose ends, although a couple of the novel’s climactic moments were quite underwhelming — in particular the scene involving the Corrigans’ father and the final confrontation between the brothers.

Thankfully, The Golden City isn’t all negative. The concept of Travelers and Harlequins is still cool even though there wasn’t enough action in the book; readers will get to visit a lot more of the parallel realities including the Fifth and Sixth Realms, the former of which has instituted their own working Panopticon (visiting this Realm was one of the highlights of the novel); the whole Vast Machine/dystopian theme is still frighteningly relevant even if parts of the presentation felt outdated; and I loved how the book took place all over the world (Berlin, New York City, London, Skellig Columba, Japan, Egypt, Mt. Sinai, Thailand, Los Angeles) with little nuggets of historical and cultural information sprinkled in at every locale. Plus, it’s always gratifying to finish reading a series. Unfortunately, all of this wasn’t nearly enough to offset the book’s myriad problems.

In the end, John Twelve Hawks’ The Golden City never comes close to recapturing the magic and excitement of The Traveler, and is a disappointing conclusion to the FOURTH REALM TRILOGY.

The Fourth Realm — (2005-2009) Publisher: In the shadows of our modern society, an ancient conflict between good and evil is being fought. A life-and-death battle we will never see, between those who wish to control history and those who will risk their lives for freedom and enlightenment … Los Angeles: A city where you have to work hard to live beneath the surface. Gabriel and Michael Corrigan are trying to do just that. Since childhood, the brothers have been shaped by the stories that their mystical father, a man of strange powers and intuition, has told them about the world in which they live. After his violent death, they have been living ‘off the grid’ — that is, invisible to the intricate surveillance networks that monitor our modern lives. London: Maya, a tough and feisty young woman, is playing at being a citizen, is playing at leading a normal life. But her background is anything but. Trained to fight since she was a young girl, she is the last in a long line whose duty is to protect the gifted among us. When she is summoned to Prague by her ailing father, she learns that Gabriel and Michael’s lives are in danger and are in desperate need of protection. Prague: Nathan Boone, a disciplined and amoral mercenary, watches Maya leave the meeting with her father before brutally killing him. Tasked to hunt down the brothers, he tracks Maya as she seeks to fulfil what turns out to be her father’s last command. When Maya flies to California to find them, an extraordinary chase begins, the final running battle in the war which will reveal the secret history of our time…

fantasy book reviews John Twelve Hawks The Fourth Realm 1. The Traveller 2. The Dark River 3. The Golden Cityfantasy book reviews John Twelve Hawks The Fourth Realm 1. The Traveller 2. The Dark River 3. The Golden Cityfantasy book reviews John Twelve Hawks The Fourth Realm 1. The Traveller 2. The Dark River 3. The Golden City


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ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

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