June 22, 2005

Amateur Book Review: The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks

Everything you know is wrong!

The entire world, its business and politics on down are run –no, not by a dozen Jews in a Geneva basement – but by an ultra-secret order called the Tabula. Our early-21st century consumer society is actually “the Vast Machine”, where nearly everyone lives under the Tabula’s surveillance and control. Below the surface though, a fierce, ages-long war continues. The Tabula has been trying for centuries to eradicate the Travelers, seemingly normal men and women who have the ability to transcend this plane of reality and lead humanity. To the Tabula, they are a variable that can’t be controlled and so must be eradicated. The Travelers, pacifists at heart, are protected by The Harlequins (no, not this Harlequin or this Harley Quinn), merciless killers who have no reason to exist other than protecting Travelers. But now, in this technology-driven modern age, the Tabula has gained the upper hand. The Harlequins are shattered and the Travelers are all but extinct. This is the world of John Twelve Hawks’ upcoming book The Traveler, the first part of a planned trilogy.

The odds are good you’re going to hear about this book. The publisher, Doubleday, has set up a huge marketing campaign built on forced world-of-mouth (10,000 advance reader copies already sent), a large Internet presence (half-dozen websites, such as this fake blog set up by the Harlequin main character in her civilian disguise), and guerrilla marketing using various mysterious passages from the book. This book is being released in 18 countries, and already has been optioned for a movie with Steven Spielberg attached. The book itself is marvelously packaged: a wraparound cover showing an extreme close-up of the heroine with a Traveler reflected in her sunglasses. The logo –on the galleys anyway- is on the back. The kicker to this marketing onslaught? A reclusive author who lives “off the grid” and refuses to do any interview, even by email. The only contact he’s had with the media was on a promo DVD released where he read passages off-camera sounding, in the words of Publishers Weekly “like Darth Vader’s nephew.” So the marketing is excellent; how is the book?

It’s okay. This first installment follows Maya, a young woman who has buried her Harlequin heritage beneath the façade of Judith Strand. She’s summoned to Prague by her paraplegic father and asked to finish his last mission. She refuses, until her father is brutally murdered by the Tabula. It seems that the mission was to protect Michael and Gabriel, two young Californians who may be Travelers. Michael, the older of the two, has tired of living off the grid and settles in as a shady real estate investor in Los Angeles. The younger brother Gabriel, who might as well hold a neon sign that says “HERO HERE”, is the opposite. He’s cool. While Michael has decided to live within the Vast Machine without knowing what it is, buying stuff and making money and probably voting Republican; Gabriel only drives motorcycles, jumps out of airplanes, and lives in the bad part of town. He probably keeps a perpetual 5-o’clock shadow and definitely has soulful eyes.

The Traveler is briskly plotted, aside from a tedious section where Gabriel is trained to use his power. The book is polished to a very bright sheen; makes me wonder if Twelve Hawks really is a big unknown. There isn’t much here that says, “first time author”, and a lot to suggest an old pro. It reads so briskly it nearly doesn’t need a screenplay adaptation. It becomes difficult to read the book without wondering who will play these parts on the screen. Does Jennifer Garner or Kate Beckinsale play Maya? It’s distracting, and with all the manufactured hype planned for this book, and the rather ridiculous story of the author, it isn’t easy to really get into this book. It seems very fake, much like the world it describes.

It isn’t without it’s charm though. As mentioned, the book races pretty quickly to an interesting –if not particularly shocking- ending. The characters maintain a voice throughout. Gabriel is very self-consciously cool. Michael is a grasping twit. The most interesting of the bunch is Maya, the Harlequin. Raised to be a killing machine, she desperately wants to be more than that, and it’s rather touching to see her succeed and fail simultaneously. The backstory to this work, the Tabula and Travelers and such, is interesting (in fact the brief descriptions of the history of the war is more so than much of the present action), if not particularly innovative. Anyone paying attention to pop culture the last 10 years will recognize snippets of the Matrix, Da Vinci Code, even Star Wars. The book is enjoyable though, for what it is: the ultimate airplane read.

Posted by Frinklin at June 22, 2005 07:51 PM

You maybe interested in this site - Live Off The Grid - which explores the implimentation of the ideas in John Twelve Hawks The Traveler.

Posted by: Josiah at July 31, 2005 05:12 AM
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