by John Twelve Hawks
Review by John Berlyne
Bantam Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 059305430x
Date: 04 July, 2005 List Price £12.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Reluctant as I am to begin on a downbeat, the considerable hype behind The Traveller, the debut novel of pseudonymous author "John Twelve Hawks", makes for far better reading than the novel itself. Mr Twelve Hawks is a deliberately mysterious character -- he does not give interviews, do publicity tours or other duties that debut authors might be expected to perform. Furthermore, his publisher and agent have apparently never even met him in person and the jacket of The Traveller provides only the briefest of author biographies -- "John Twelve Hawks lives off the grid". Such muddy waters are guaranteed to pique our interest, but how does this fiction about the author compare that written by him?
It's the near future -- maybe tomorrow, maybe a year or two hence. The endless and mindless trudge towards a true "Big Brother" culture moves on apace. Governments can track their citizens via their mobile phones and credit card transactions and through the vast network of cameras that watch our every move. The concept of privacy is receding into history. Naturally there are those who advocate this progress and those who argue against its intrusion. The Traveller introduces two such factions -- though there are religious overtones to each point of view. The Brethren (a.k.a The Tabula) are our bad guys -- a covert, conspiratorial outfit, high-tech and ruthless. Against them there are The Travellers, spiritual leaders who can "move between the realms" -- whatever that means!. Protecting The Travellers, there are The Harlequins --sword-wielding warriors sworn to lay their lives down to stop the evil Tabula from wiping The Travellers out of existence.
With me so far? I hope so, for sadly I'm afraid Mr Twelve Hawks keeps matters vague enough to avoid explaining anything more.
The nub of the novel then, follows two brothers, the sons of a Traveller, who are unaware of the possibility that their genetic heritage might have given them special, so far untapped, abilities. The bad-guy Brethren track these two fellows down, but only manage to snatch one brother. The other escapes and falls in with a Harlequin woman, sent to protect him. Both brothers follow a path to their "enlightenment" -- one is sponsored by the Tabula, intent on harnessing his powers for their own ends (which confusingly has something to do with aliens, but that bit is especially vague) -- the other is guided on his path by his Harlequin companion, who must protect him on his quest to find a "Pathfinder", a kind of Yoda type who will help him reach his potential.
That's it! That's your plot -- Twelve Hawks throws in a little mystical mumbo-jumbo to pad things out, but again, everything is so vague that one can't help but wonder if it's all a bit of storm in a teacup. On the plus side, there's a nice international feel to the story, as it passes from Prague to London, to the US, but one gets the impression that this is simply to give the film crew who will make the movie, a few days abroad. Indeed, the plotting here has all the cynical commercialism one expects from a story clearly written for the screen -- rights have already been sold, apparently. There's a nagging feeling too of things being "dumbed-down" in order to catch the greatest slice of the marketplace - the lowest common denominator of readers. Certainly there is a slick pace to the action -- a few car chases, a swordfight or two, a couple of dream sequences, but The Traveller is a bald example of style over substance, and the net result is a generalized conspiracy theory book featuring two-dimensional characters that, to be frank, we couldn't give a damn about.
There'll be many readers who will doubtless thoroughly enjoy The Traveller - as a mindless thriller that you might read on the beach, I happily recommend it. It'll take you about half an hour to read and fully comprehend. Others though, perhaps readers like myself, will find this a shallow and derivative work, lacking in any kind of weight or substance or indeed intellectual challenge.
Don't believe the hype.