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Series Review: The John Cleaver Series by Dan Wells

March 6, 2013 3 comments

Introduction:
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books.  It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole.  These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another.  Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.

Notebook paper with blood on it.Summary:
Fifteen-year-old John Wayne Cleaver is not a serial killer.  At least not yet.  John’s therapist believes he has Antisocial Personality Disorder, commonly known as sociopathy, although he can’t legally deliver the official diagnosis until he’s 18 years old.  But both his therapist and himself hope John can learn to control his illness in the meantime.  An illness John refers to as Mr. Monster.  This becomes more difficult as a serial killer shows up in his town.  John starts to wonder if he can harness Mr. Monster to find and kill the killer.  A killer he soon learns is supernatural and ultimately faces.  The demons continue coming to his town, and John feels his grasp on control and an ability to function in average society slipping.  Are there really more and more demons coming to his town? Or is it just his sociopathy getting the better of him?

Review:
This trilogy starts with an incredible bang, but makes a slow trajectory downward to end on a whimper.

The first book is incredible.  It bashes ableism on its head by featuring a main character who is a teenager struggling with a mental illness, and not an easy one to identify with either.  People with APD lack empathy, which can make it difficult to empathize with them in return.  Wells carefully crafts a realistic yet sympathetic teenager with APD.  His struggles to defeat his mental illness and be a functioning member of society are great to see in a novel period, let alone in a YA one.  On top of this, we have a single mother running a business with the help of her just graduated high school daughter and part-time help of her teenage son.  It’s the perfect mix of non-traditional and yet not off the wall family to have as a backdrop for John.  We have all this, then, with a thriller plot that starts with the hint of a serial killer then deliciously builds to the revelation that the killer is a demon.  This fantasy element fits perfectly in with what is hot in YA right now, giving an interesting, unique main character an appealing wrapping.

Knife under an x.I was stoked after reading this and had high hopes for the trilogy.  The middle book maintains some of the elements that made the first book amazing but missed on others.  On the plus side, John is still who he was in the first book, although with more confidence.  He tries to date, and his family has their own struggles.  Although the thriller pacing is less deftly done, it still works in the context of this book, particularly since the middle book of a trilogy is traditionally setting things up for the last hurrah of the final book.  Plus this book manages to accomplish two things.  It has John learning more about himself and his mental illness and it shows him learning more about demons.  It ends on a powerful note with him inviting one of the demon’s friends to Clayton County to face off with him.  He’s tired of waiting for things to come to him and is ready to go on the offensive.  Thus, although this book wasn’t as strong as the first, I had high hopes that it was setting us up for a powerful final book in the trilogy.

Things really fall apart in the final book, which is what makes the trilogy taken as a whole disappointing.  Everything is building toward the final book.  Toward what John ultimately learns and what he ultimately becomes.  Unfortunately the answers to both of those questions are a major let-down after the unique and albeism-smashing features of the first two books.  In the climactic scene, John’s mother sacrifices herself to save her son.  When he loses her, he realizes that he is feeling feelings.  He’s feeling the pain of losing her.  When he realizes this, the lightbulb goes off in his head that he stopped feeling feelings when his father abandoned them.  It was just him trying to deal with his broken family.  I shit you not.  And then he decides he has been healed by his mother’s death.  His mother’s sacrifice opens him up to letting himself feel things again. What. The Fuck.

Burnt paper background to book title.First of all, going numb after being badly emotionally hurt is a real thing.  But it’s not a real thing that would be mistaken by a therapist as Antisocial Personality Disorder. And being numb doesn’t mean a person starts daydreaming about killing everyone around him and the girls he has crushes on in particular.  Numb is not the same as lacking empathy, and it honestly doesn’t even take a therapist to see that.  Numb looks and feels different from sociopathy.  They are not the same thing and simply could not be mistaken for each other.  If we decide that perhaps Wells didn’t mean to imply that John was simply numb and didn’t have sociopathy, then we can only read this as saying that John’s father abandoning the family *caused* his son’s sociopathy and that his mother’s sacrifice cured it.  I’m sorry, but your dad running off does not give people Antisocial Personality Disorder, and it certainly isn’t cured in the span of 10 minutes by someone sacrificing their life for yours.  (By the way, does anyone see the heavy-handed religious symbolism in that? Because it is definitely there).  The cause, as with many mental illnesses, is officially unknown but is believed to be a combination of genetics and severe environmental factors such as child abuse (source).  Since John is not abused, then we can only assume that in his case his APD is genetic.  It is utterly ridiculous to present the matter as his APD being caused by something as simple as a parent leaving.  Similarly, there is no cure for APD.  People do not get magically better overnight.  It can be managed so a person may have a healthy, normal life, but it does not just disappear.  The symptoms do sometimes become less severe on their own in a person’s 40s (according to the DSM-IV-TR), but John is not 40, and he doesn’t suddenly get better thanks to aging.  The whole climax of the series turns the series from being about a person with a mental illness learning to function and do positive things into a story about how a father abandoning his family destroyed them and almost ruined his son for life.  The former is unique and powerful.  The latter is heavy-handed and preachy.  Plus that whole dynamic belittles mental illness and makes it out to be just overcoming a bad part of your life, rather than the very real illness that people deal with every day.

So what we have here is a trilogy that starts as one thing and ends as another.  It starts as a thriller with a unique main character demonstrating dealing with mental illness in an engaging, realistic manner.  It ends with a thriller that quickly goes from spine-tingling to heavy-handed and preachy.  It is unfortunate that this preachiness also gets the facts about a mental illness wrong and presents these false ideas to a YA audience in such an attractive, fantastical thriller wrapping.  Ultimately the writing is good but the last book in the trilogy takes a nose-dive when it comes to facts and the realities of having and living with a mental illness.  Thankfully, one can read the first or first two books in the trilogy without reading it all.  There are not major cliffhangers that compel the reader to continue on, and the first two books stand on their own well enough.  I’m disappointed that the series as a whole is not something I can recommend whole-heartedly.  I’m disappointed that after starting out so strong, Wells went so far astray.  That doesn’t change the quality of the first two books, though, so I still recommend them. But only if you’re capable of leaving a series partly unread.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap, Audible

Books in Series:
I Am Not A Serial Killer, review, 5 stars
Mr. Monster , review, 4 stars
I Don’t Want to Kill You, review, 3 stars

Book Review: I Don’t Want to Kill You by Dan Wells (Audiobook narrated by Kirby Heyborne) (Series, #3)

March 2, 2013 4 comments

Burnt paper background to book title.Summary:
Teenaged John Cleaver had his sociopathy under control but when his town was plagued with two different demons, he had to let it loose a bit to fight them.  He invited the demon Nobody to come face off with him, but he and those around him are left wondering if Nobody is real or if John’s sociopathy has just gone out of control.  Meanwhile the teenage girls of the town are committing suicide left and right, and John can’t help but wonder why he’s ever tried to save anybody.

Review:
This is one of only a few YA series that I’ve enjoyed reading.  The paranormal/youth aspect are almost like a Dexter lite, which is enjoyable.  I must say, though, that I was disappointed by the ultimate ending to the series.  However, since I write up series review posts every time I finish a series, I’ll leave my analysis of the series as a whole to that post, which will be coming up next.  For right now, let’s look at the final book on its own merit.

The plot this time around was disappointingly full of obvious red herrings.  I knew within the first chapter where Nobody was hiding, and it was kind of ridiculous that talented, intelligent John was missing it.  Similarly, I found the serial killer who John identified as who he could end up being if he made the wrong choices to be a bit heavy-handed.  John was already well aware of the risks of his sociopathy from the very first book.  It felt a bit unnecessary to make this such a strong plot point.  It came across as preachy, which is something that this series had avoided so far.  Similarly, John goes to see a priest at one point in his investigations, and his conversations with him felt a bit too heavy-handed, almost like the (known religious) Wells was preaching at the readers through the priest.  Authors are allowed their opinions and perspectives, but preachiness is never good writing.  Perspective and opinion should be shown eloquently through the plot and characters.

Speaking of characterization, John was still strongly written, but his mother and sister were another story.  They felt less like they were doing what was logical and more like they were doing what needed to be done to move the plot forward.  On the other hand, I really enjoyed John’s new girlfriend.  She was well-rounded and realistic.  Plus she was fit while being curvy, which I think is a great thing to see in a book.

In spite of the slightly obvious plot, I still was engaged to get to the end.  Even though I knew whether or not there was a demon and who the killer was, I still deeply wanted to see how John would handle it.  The audiobook narrator, Kirby Heyborne, helped with this momentum.  His narration was just the right amount of tension while still remaining in a teenager’s voice.  Be warned, though, that there is some yelling in the book, so the volume does spike considerably at a few points in the narration.  You may want to keep the volume a bit lower than usual to accommodate this.

Unfortunately, where the plot ultimately ended up was deeply disappointing to me.  It was not at all a satisfying ending, and from a mental illness advocacy perspective, I actually found it distressing.  Whereas John’s sociopathy previously was handled with a lot of scientific understanding, I found the ending of this book to be completely out of touch with real sociopathy.  While it wasn’t offensive per se, it drastically oversimplifies sociopathy, both its treatment and its causes, which is just as bad as demonizing it.  I will address this issue more fully in the series review, but suffice to say that I found the ending to this book’s individual mystery and the series as a whole to be disappointing, particularly given the potential of the book.

Overall, then, this is an average book that wraps up an above average series.  If you are someone who is fine with stopping things partway through, I’d recommend just stopping with the previous book in the series, Mr. Monster.  But if you are interested in the overall perspective, this book is still an engaging read that doesn’t drag.  It just might disappoint you.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series
I Am Not A Serial Killer, review
Mr. Monster, review

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Book Review: Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop (series, #1)

August 17, 2011 7 comments

Girl holding glowing thing.Summary:
In this fantasy matriarchal land, people are ranked by their power based on what color jewels they are mystically assigned to wear when they come of age.  The darker the jewel, the better.  The women all have some sort of witchcraft power, but none have had the power of The Witch in hundreds of years.  Corrupt women have messed with the structure of society turning it from harmony to darkly using the men and women to their own advantage.  Men in particular are used by controlling them via a ring of obedience (placed around their penis).  Into this messed-up society the much waited for Witch is born, but most do not recognize her.  Lucky for her, the demon dead Saetan and his two living sons, Daemon and Lucivar, do.

Review:
This is what I would call high fantasy.  The only thing missing really is knights in shining armor.  A friend gave me this trilogy for my birthday as it is one of her favorite series, and she thought I would like it.  I can see why she thought I would like it.  It’s dark, graphically violent and sexual, and the choice to depict a messed-up matriarchy instead of patriarchy is unique.  Unfortunately I just couldn’t get into it.

First there’s the whole jewels and traveling on webs and wind and speaking on a soundwave that only people with that jewel can hear thing.  None of these things are ever particularly explained.  They just are.  Ok, so that probably works for fantasy fans, but I’m a logical, scifi reading lady.  I want explanations for things.  Also, how society fell apart is kind of massively unclear to me.  I’m not sure how things went from good to bad or what the properly functioning society is supposed to look like.  It’s all very confusing, and frankly, I can’t remember the order of the ranks of the jewels.  I just remember that gray is second-strongest and black is strongest.  But then later in the book some people say they’ve worked their way up to stronger jewels than their birthright.  Um, what?  When did that happen?  How can that happen?  If you can do that then why does your birthright jewel matter at all?  None of this makes any sense. Agh.

Then there’s the ring of obedience.  So they put this on violent males who are now sex slaves, apparently.  They serve witches.  The ring makes it so they can’t get a hard-on without pain.  But they don’t take the ring off for sex, which means these women are using sex slaves but never actually having intercourse. Who would want that?!  How does that make sense?  Also, Daemon can apparently pleasure women and tie them up just with his mind.  He can do this but he can’t get a ring off his dick?  This feels like badly-organized erotica.  Which would be fine if it was erotica, but it’s fantasy, so wtf Bishop.

So then we have Jaenelle, The Witch.  She’s eleven or twelve, I can’t remember exactly which.  Her family thinks she’s crazy because she’s super-powerful and travels around meeting mystical creatures and told them about it, which was a bad move.  She got sent to an asylum then brought home, and she’s been all Miss Mysterious Dark Eyes That Are Actually Gorgeous and Sapphire ever since.  This is the main mystery of the book.  That and the manly threesome trying to protect her from the big bad queen witches who want her dead.  So Daemon is working in her house and basically falls in love with her.  He’s never felt sexual desire for a witch before, but now he does.  He feels horrible that he feels it for one so young and vows to wait until she’s grown up enough to be with him, but he still feels it.

Then we *spoiler alert* find out the asylum is just a cover-up for pedophiles, and of course Jaenelle gets raped, and a good witch saves her, and Daemon and Saetan work together to try to save her, and in her mind she tells Daemon that he just wants her body just like everyone else, and he basically makes out with her in her mind to show her he wants to be her lover not hurt her.  This makes her come back to her body and heal it. Then she escapes to Saetan and Daemon escapes off to a brothel.

Can we just HOLD THE PHONE for a minute.  I am not at all against a pedophilia storyline or plot device.  These things happen in real life, so it’s ok for them to be in a story.  I do have a problem with the “good guy” having sexual feelings for an eleven or twelve year old when he’s literally centuries old.  He himself admits this is bad, but instead of going away from her, he makes out with her in her mind (when she’s in half-horse form no less).  I just….what.  What the what.  What am I supposed to think about this?  How am I supposed to feel about a book written by a woman in which the matriarchy basically abuses everyone and yet the men still wind up with most of the power (the manly threesome) over this young girl who is supposed to become the awesome ruler one day, and one of the guys has pedophilic feelings for her. WTF.*end spoilers*

I suppose it’s possible that Daemon is an anti-hero, and we’ll find that out later in the series.  That Jaenelle will triumph and prevail over everyone and fix everything.  We can only hope.  I do suspect that part of my issue with the book is just point-blank never feeling comfortable in the fantasy world Bishop lays out.  I just don’t do high fantasy.  When will I learn this?

That said, it does seem well-written, and I think if a fantasy fan can handle very dark and graphic violence, sex, and themes, they will probably enjoy this trilogy.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Book Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (series, #3) (spoiler-free)

August 30, 2010 5 comments

White bird on a blue background.Summary:
Katniss has been rescued by the rebels and is living in District 13 along with refugees from District 12, Haymitch, Johanna, and Finnick.  Peeta and Annie are still in the clutches of the Capitol, and every day Katniss is plagued with thoughts of what torture they must be suffering at the hands of President Snow.  The rebellion is sweeping across Panem, and the leader of the rebels, President Coin, wants Katniss to be the symbol of the revolution–the Mockingjay.  It is as if the arena has consumed all of Panem, and there is no escape for Katniss.

Review:
This is a better wrap-up to a story than in other trilogies I have seen, but compared to the first two books, it is definitely found a bit wanting.  Without the structure of the Hunger Games or the Quarter Quell, Collins struggles a bit at maintaining a consistent storyline and action.  She additionally seems to have suffered a bit of a guilt complex over the delicious gore in the first two books, and here spends many pages dwelling on the emotional impact of the violence to the extent that Katniss winds up sounding a lot like Harry Potter in book 5 of that series, and we all know how annoying everyone found him.  Granted, Katniss has more reason to be upset than Harry ever did, but one can only take so many emotional breakdowns before it starts to seem as if Katniss is weak, rather than the strong heroine we grew to love in the first two books.

There is a war on, so of course action scenes do exist.  They are a bit hit or miss, however.  Interestingly, the ones that work the best are the ones that read like battles and are the least similar to the games in the first two books.  I believe this is because the battle scenes allow us to see Katniss developing from a victim of traps set by the Capitol to a soldier.  The ones that read more like traps feel like a step back from a character development point of view.  However, fans will find enough fast-paced action scenes to keep them happy.

The writing continues to be painfully sophomoric, only with the starting and stopping of the action, it is far more noticeable.  I know this is being told from Katniss’ point of view, but it could really stand to have at least a few less cliche metaphors and sentence fragments.  Challenge the minds of your YA readers at least a little, please, Collins.

Those interested in the series for the love triangle, or who enjoy the love triangle a lot will not be disappointed, no matter whether they are Team Peeta or Team Gale.  Although personally I still don’t understand just what is so irresistible about Katniss, beyond that, the emotions are handled in a realistic manner.  What impacts the final choice is more than just the emotions of Katniss, and I actually enjoy the final message Collins leaves her teen readers with about relationships in general.  Whichever fella you’re in favor of, the moment the final choice is realized is still a tear-jerking one.

Overall, Mockingjay is a satisfying end to the series, but does not live up to the power of the first two books.  Fans will by no means regret having started the series, however.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams (Series, #5)

June 10, 2010 3 comments

Woman wearing glasses and a man's face on a green book cover.Summary:
Arthur Dent thought his zany days earth-less days were over.  The whole Earth-being-blown-up was undone, and he found a woman to love.  But when they’re traveling through the universe together, she suddenly disappears and Arthur finds himself in a parallel universe where the exact Earth he once knew doesn’t exist.  Meanwhile, Ford Prefect pays a visit to the Guide offices and finds that something just isn’t quite right.

Review:
Thank goodness I didn’t let the flop of the fourth book So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish deter me from finishing the series.  Adams returns to his strengths in this entry–outerspace adventures of Ford and Arthur, not to mention zany robots and odd cultures on other planets that manage to reflect the oddities of our own.  Plus, the storyline actually moves the original plot of the Earth being destroyed by the Vogons forward.

Some of the jokes rank right up there with The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  One that sticks out in my mind is when Ford messes with a robot’s circuitry making it endlessly joyful.  It was a delightful flipping of the endlessly miserable robot, Marvin, featured earlier in the series.  It was quite enjoyable to see how hilarious both extremes are.  Also of note is the village religious man on a planet Arthur winds up on, who is quite clearly making the village’s religion up as he goes along, and the villagers are semi-aware of this, but shrug and let him.  That said, at least half of the jokes, while they tickled my funny-bone in a pleasant way, didn’t have me actually laughing like the first couple of books did.  It was a pleasant read, but not uproariously funny.

Entire essays and theses could be written (and probably have been) on the themes in the Hitchhiker series.  Excuse me. Trilogy.  From belonging to homelessness to the purpose of life, Adams’ work has it all, which is what makes it good humor, actually.  It’s humor pointing out the most basic questions of life in a setting that removes it from our own experiences enough to make us see it in a different light.

Some readers will probably be unhappy with the ending.  I enjoyed it and saw the humor in it, in spite of it being rather dark.  I know that Adams expressed some discontent with it and was in the middle of writing a sequel, The Salmon of Doubt, when he died, which has now been posthumously published, as well as a sixth entry written by Adams’ widow and Eoin Colfer.  I don’t cotton to posthumously published works assembled by people who are not the author, nor continuations based on what people “think the author would have wanted.”  For all we know, Adams could have changed his mind yet again.  I prefer to view Mostly Harmless as the end of the series, as it was the last book truly finished by Adams.

Mostly Harmless is a wonderful closing chapter to the series that contains delightful meta jokes, as well as new territory, and neatly ties up the experiences of the characters.  Fans of the series won’t be disappointed with this entry, which is a delightful jump up from the fourth book, but they may be left a bit sad to see the end.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Raven Used Books

Previous Books in Series:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Life, the Universe, and Everything
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, review

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Book Review: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams (Series, #4)

March 30, 2010 6 comments

Dolphins in the sky along with a green glob holding a towel and giving a thumbs up.Summary:
Although the planet Earth definitely blew up, Arthur Dent has found himself back on it again, and not in the prehistoric past like before.  Everything seems about the same, except that the dolphins all have disappeared and apparently there was a mass hallucination of the planet blowing up caused by a CIA experiment.  You’d think this would require all of Arthur’s attention, but instead he’s rather highly focused on a woman named Fenchurch who claims the Earth really did blow up and insists something has felt off ever since.

Review:
It’s no secret that one of my favorite comedic books is The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the second book in this series.  While I felt that the third book suffered a bit, it was still pretty damn funny in my opinion.  I really wish I could say the same about this.

I still enjoy Adams’ writing style.  It’s tongue in cheek, snarky, and self-referencing.  It is a pure pleasure to read.  This still holds true here, but the problem is that it’s just not laugh out loud funny.  Oh, there are bemusing moments, but mostly it’s a case of jokes falling flat.  I think the reason for this is that what makes the books funny is Arthur Dent–average British dude–stuck into the bizarre situations that are the rest of the universe with only the equally bizarre Ford Prefect as a true companion.  Indeed, my favorite bit of this book is when Arthur and Ford are reunited.  Without that Arthur stuck in outerspace element, you wind up with a rather run-of-the-mill, “huh, something odd is going on on planet Earth” book.  It’s cute, but it’s not surprising, and the element of surprise is what makes the rest of the series so funny.

I also wasn’t fond of Adams’ obvious response to the fan question, “Does Arthur ever have sex?!” with the addition of the love interest, Fenchurch.  He may think it is witty to reference this and answer it, but I was disappointed.  I enjoyed wondering if poor Arthur spent 8 years devoid of sex.  It added a certain element of mystery to him.  This whole part felt kind of like a cop-out.

I don’t want to sound like I hated the book, because I didn’t.  When compared to books not written by Adams, it actually holds up quite well.  It’s enjoyable and has some unique scenes.  It’s just, in comparison to the rest of the series, I was left a bit disappointed.  I still plan on finishing reading the series, though.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

Previous Books in Series:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Life, the Universe, and Everything

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Book Review: Fourth Realm Trilogy By John Twelve Hawks

October 9, 2009 5 comments

coverethetraveler_small coverthedarkriver_small coverthegoldencity_small

Summary:
John Twelve Hawks presents us with a near-future dystopia in the Fourth Realm TrilogyThe Traveler, The Dark River, and The Golden City.  In this vision of the world Earth as we know it is actually just one of six realms of parallel universes.  Travelers are the only ones who can move between these parallel universes.  Saints with visions of heaven and hell and motivating, compassionate people such as Buddha are examples of past travelers.  They seek to keep people aware of their “Light” aka soul.  An evil organization called The Brotherhood has been seeking for generations to wipe out travelers, as they believe they cause dissent.  Working against The Brotherhood are Harlequins–people raised from birth to defend travelers at all costs.  The Brotherhood thought they had succeeded and have started building a panopticon–a virtual prison in which everyone is constantly under surveillance for “their own protection.”  However, two brothers–Michael and Gabriel–are actually travelers.  Michael sides with The Brotherhood in an effort to ensnare humanity, while Gabriel teams up with Maya, a Harlequin.   The two brothers thus are pit against each other in an effort to enslave or save humanity.

Review:
The Fourth Realm Trilogy is decidedly a series with a message and an agenda.  “John Twelve Hawks” is actually a pen-name, and the publisher claims that he does try to live off the grid out of a concern about loss of freedom via invasion of privacy with new technology.  There is skepticism as to whether this is true or a marketing hype.  Regardless, whoever the author is, his main concern is definitely loss of privacy to technology, and this is abundantly evident in the trilogy.

This is a plot-driven trilogy.  It reads like an action film in the feel of The Matrix.  Further it is exciting because the world the characters live in looks exactly like our own, right down to the surveillance cameras in London.  The only difference is these parallel universes, which is a feature I enjoyed a lot.  Dystopian novels are usually either completely bound in our world or take place in an entirely different one.  This trilogy utilizes both approaches, and this kept it from feeling like an updated version of 1984.

There are many characters.  Thankfully, they are distinct enough that keeping track of them is relatively easy, but sometimes Twelve Hawks does not pay enough attention to character development.  Particularly toward the end of the trilogy, characters will suddenly make a decision or behave in a manner that comes out of nowhere and is completely out of character.  These moments are jarring and distract from the plot.

The plot itself is a good, complex one.  It takes place all over this world and journeys to every single realm.  Two plot sequences I particularly enjoyed were one in an off-the-grid commune in the south-west US and another in Japan.  Twelve Hawks must have travelled extensively, because the descriptions scream “I’ve been there. I know what it’s really like.”  There was one plot hole in The Dark River that still bothers me.  I think what probably happened is there’s an explanation for the action, but Twelve Hawks neglected to write it in.  However, the ending makes up for the plot hole as I was unable to predict it.  I absolutely love unpredictable endings that keep me page-turning right up until the end.

Another enjoyable element of the trilogy is the violence.  It is chock-full of creative deaths, and even characters who don’t die get beat up a lot–in all realms.  An example of the level of violence is a scene where three characters’ limbs are simultaneously wripped off in front of an audience.  However, most of the violence is more of the ninja type, due to the presence of the sword and martial-arts trained Harlequins.  Twelve Hawks’s strength is writing action sequences, so these are great fun to read.

A mark against the trilogy is periodic character speeches that are obviously Twelve Hawks voicing his opinion.  This a typical short-coming of dystopian novels though.  Authors with a dark vision of the future can’t seem to help proselytizing in an attempt to save it.  I don’t hold this against the novels, but other readers might find it more annoying.  There’s essentially one speech a book.

If you enjoy Quentin Tarantino movies or want a more grown-up, spiritual version of The Hunger Games, definitely give the Fourth Realm Trilogy a chance.  I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Bought The Traveller, borrowed The Dark River and The Golden City from the library

Buy The Traveller
Buy The Dark River
Buy The Golden City