I read a lot of books. Where most people would turn on the television if they're bored and have nothing to do, I'd rather pick up a favourite book and re-read it for the hundredth time. It's only been recently that I've started having to figure out what it is I like about a book in order to review it. It's been a lot harder than I had thought it would be, because I had never really thought about what it was that made something work for me or not. I either liked something or I didn't and that was all I needed to know.
But obviously a review demands more than just saying I liked a book or not. There are the obvious things to talk about — character, plot, pacing, and originality, for example — and while they are important to a story, any decent craftsperson can follow basic principles and combine those elements into something that physically resembles a novel.
But it's the intangible elements of a novel that separate the ones I want to read over and over again from those that I'll trade in at a used book store for something else. The problem with intangibles is, well, they are intangible, so it's kind of difficult to say turn to page 26 and you'll see an example of what I mean.
The second installment of John Twelve Hawk's Fourth Realm Trilogy, The Dark River (published by the Doubleday Canada imprint of Random House Canada) is a really good example of a book where that's the case. On the surface it appears to be nothing more than a well written, suspense/fantasy novel. The characters are interesting, and the plot intriguing, but even while reading it I wasn't aware of it having any real distinguishing characteristics.
The story is the familiar paranoid vision of history where a secret cabal of individuals have lurked behind the scenes throughout the centuries pulling the strings of politicians to ensure the world runs the way they want it to. Of course there have been the brave few who have opposed them, those who would try and tell humans about an alternative way of living and life was about more than just doing Squire Bob's bidding (or that era's equivalent)
Here's where one of the first quirks comes in. The people who pop up every so often to disrupt the social order aren't just those with some socio-political ax to grind, but have obtained enlightenment in regard to humanity's potential. They have become known as Travelers due to the manner in which they have gained their awareness.