I agreed to review The Dark River, second in the Fourth Realm trilogy, in part because I had not read the first book. I thought I could give a unique perspective. Most reviewers would have read the first book, wouldn’t they? After I agreed, I thought I may have made a mistake. I read somewhere that the plot was so complex a reader should start with book one, and if I had picked up The Two Towers without any knowledge of the rest of The Lord of the Rings story, I’d be lost at the start. But I didn’t have any trouble following the story. There are many times the narrative recalls past events, all of which could be part of book one, but I don’t know and not knowing didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the story here.
The story begins exploring the black hats’ attempts to eliminate the white hats. The black hats in this story are The Brethren, a high-tech, international organization that wants to virtually imprison all free people through data networks, security checks, and surveillance cameras. They believe that once everyone in the world agrees to being watched or recorded for security reasons then everyone will become fairly controllable. The Brethren believe people are fundamentally products of their environment, so if the environment can be completely controlled, then everyone in it can be controlled. This belief earned the black hats the label Tabula by the white hats, who are Travelers and Harlequins.
Travelers are spiritual leaders who can supposedly send their energy into other worlds in order to bring back lessons for this world. Bringing back lessons can shake things up a bit, such as starting a new religious order, so the Tabula oppose the Travelers because they want to be the only ones shaking things up. The main white hat here is Gabriel Corrigan. He is the one the black hats want captured and eventually dead; all others can be killed on sight.
The Tabula’s primary obstacle is Maya, a Harlequin. I don’t know what comes first to your mind at the word harlequin, but I decided to ignore everything that came to mine. So what if the author chose a poor label for his ninja-like defenders of the spiritual characters? He could have called them jacks, jokers, or mimes. I will suspend disbelief. Maya is a trained warrior who is dedicated to defending Gabriel. Harlequins give their lives to defend Travelers and have reportedly done so for centuries. They would say it is their only duty. Unfortunately for him, Gabriel doesn’t respect her protection enough and runs off alone.
Gabriel’s brother is named Michael, which may lead you to believe these two Travelers will perform some archangelic heralding of some kind. But no, Michael has donned a black hat (perhaps depicted in the first book) and Gabriel doesn’t want to be a spiritual leader at all. That points to a main theme of The Dark River: many characters are compelled by a duty they would rather forget. They have a difficult calling, and they want to reject it for sake of their own happiness, but for humanity’s sake they don’t.
What Gabriel would have done had he embraced his role as a Traveler, I don’t know. In The Dark River, he crosses over and gets stuck in a hellish realm of anger and violence, but he spends his time there trying to get out. As anyone who has been to Hell might tell you, they don’t issue round trip tickets for that flight. I can’t see what he may have done there to gain understanding for this life.
The novel itself isn’t deep—interesting and fun, but it lacks emotional and spiritual intensity. It’s strongest point may be in the historical details given for London, Rome, Berlin, and Skellig Columba. The action is good too. See Mr. Holtsberry’s review for more details on the story.