Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: The Dark River and The Golden City

I have a literary habit I'm not especially proud of: sometimes, when I read book one of a series that I especially enjoy, I'll explicitly stop there. Dune. The Hunger Games. The Traveler. These are all books that pulled me and left me thoroughly impressed. At some level I wanted to keep that feeling of surprise and discovery that comes with a truly enjoyable book and that's often lacking in later books in the series.

On a whim, decided I to side step this rule started listening to book two of the Forth Realm trilogy. I had read and was smitten with book one, The Traveler, so I entered into book two, Dark River, with high hopes. Of course, being a trilogy, the second book ends on a fairly low note. Not to worry, I was able to immediately rent and listen to book three, The Golden City.

In many respects, these are both solid books. At their best, they blend cultural and historical references in clever ways. The notion that religious prophets are travelers, or how free runners naturally abhor The Vast Machine are quite inventive. I think it's also important to remember that while a number of the plot elements have become part of our cultural discussion (NSA spying on the web? Person of Interest), back when these books were written that simply wasn't so. I still like nearly all the characters, and find the whole relationship between Harlequins and Travelers to be fascinating. I'd buy Sparro's Way of the Sword in a minute and I'm ready to add a stick of chalk to my EDC so I can leave harlequin lute's on sidewalks and such.

But, there's no way these books can touch the original.

The book is obviously a pro-privacy manifesto, which I'm OK with. It pushes me to appreciate a perspective that's easily ignored. Yet, after two more books of preaching, the message become a bit tiresome. But worse than that, I found that there were just too many convenient plot twists that made the story feel sort of cheap. Perhaps I would have preferred a narrower scope of a story in exchange for a bit more realism (ignore the fact that I just used the word realism in a book that espouses the ability to jump between realms of reality).

Or maybe, my original hypothesis holds: what made the book so enjoyable was a sense of discovery and freshness that just can't be maintained through three books. I don't know. I do know that I'd recommend the first book, and not the latter ones.

I do give the author credit though, he is quite creative. Apparently, he's managed to keep his identity a secret and he's promoted this idea that you can be him. That is, he's encouraging folks to talk about his books, and claim to have his identity. A bit of a publicity stunt, but a fun one at that.

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