Imagine that you live in a world where there is no privacy any more. All the so-called security measures that the government has introduced have enabled them to keep track of all its citizenry. Surveillance cameras are in all public areas and are programmed by computer to identify abnormal behaviour.
You've been told that they look out for people leaving unattended packages, or who are returning to the same site over and over again for no discernible reason. The cameras, you are assured, will enable the authorities to prevent terrorist attacks and curtail criminal activity.
What they haven't told you are they also have software that enables them to scan every face they record and produce a photo quality likeness of anyone they want. This information is stored in central data banks and your whereabouts at any given point in any day are readily available to those who want to find you.
Your passport's new security chip, with coded information about your fingerprints, iris scan, and facial structure doesn't just make it harder for terrorists to use fake passports, it provides another means of tracking you. Scanning devices placed in bus shelters, train stations, and elevators can record the information on that chip and record the exact moment you stood there.
But there's also something else you don't know, and that's about the existence of three groups of people: the Travelers, the Harlequin, and the Tabula (who like to refer to themselves as the Brethren). Travelers are people who can literally travel to other realms, leaving their bodies behind and sending their spirits out beyond our plane of existence. Usually they are also people who preach a new way of being, something that would cause power to leave the hands of the few and bring it into the hands of many.
The Tabula have hunted Travelers throughout the centuries. Some say Jesus was the first Traveler, and that Herod was one of the Tabula. Always with the might of whatever ruling class at their backs the Tabula would have made short work of Travelers if it were not for Harlequins – those whose lives were dedicated to protecting Travelers by any means.
Skilled warriors trained from early childhood with only one thing in mind – protect Travelers – Harlequin are from all parts of the world. They have fought long and hard to preserve what they see as mankind's greatest hope for freedom and spiritual advancement.
In John Twelve Hawk's novel The Traveler, published by Seal Books, a division of Random House Canada, the battle has reached the twentieth century and is almost over. Until rumour reaches them that there maybe two Travelers alive in California, the few remaining Harlequins believe them all to be dead. With the Tabula having full access to all government records, and the technology of the twentieth century at their fingertips, they have been able to track down and kill Travelers and Harlequin at will. So now it becomes a race between Maya, the youngest of the Harlequin, and the entire resources of the Tabula to see who can reach the Corrigan brothers in California first.
John Twelve Hawks has written a powerful and tense thriller that takes our worst nightmares about a society completely controlled and supervised by faceless men in suits and makes it a reality. You can't run, let alone hide, from these people. If you have any dealings with the world, referred to as the Vast Machine or the Grid by the Harlequin and the Travelers, from having a library card or owning a cell phone, they will find you.
You can take drastic measures — alter your facial appearance by injecting steroids into your muscles, or try and live completely off the Grid. No credit cards, no electricity, nothing that will connect you to anything that can be traced. But you slip up just once in either circumstance and they will find you and take you.
Up until the time of The Traveler the Tabula have killed all the Travelers they have found, but now they are intent upon catching one and harnessing the ability to cross over for their own purposes. The folk who work for the Tabula are just what you'd expect them to be like, your fairly stereotypical fanatics who believe that most people are sheep and need to be controlled for their own good. Somehow you know that they aren't planning on using the power of a Traveler for any benevolent reason.
Aside from being able to write action incredibly well and keep the suspense ratcheted pretty much at high all the time, what helps make this book an even better read is what Twelve Hawks has done with his main character. Maya doesn't want to be a Harlequin, and had in fact refused to be one. Her father had been one and she resented the fact that her childhood was entirely taken up with her being trained to replace him.
It's only when her father is brutally murdered that she can be convinced to re-enter the fray in an attempt to find Michael and Gabriel Corrigan. But she constantly questions her own commitment, and hates the skills she has that allows her to effortlessly overpower groups of men twice her size – leaving them maimed or dead.
Harlequins are not supposed to care about anything except protecting their charges. If they have to kill innocent people because they are a threat to a Traveler's safety than they will do it. But Maya can't be like that, or at least she doesn't want to; she has to live with herself, and taking the lives of innocents, or standing by and letting something horrible happen because she can't afford to be noticed, might not be something she could live with.
But if she doesn't she may not live long enough to enjoy her clean conscience. While the whole "ends justifying the means" argument isn't a new one, the way John Twelve Hawks has presented it in The Traveler is different. It isn't usually presented as having such direct personal consequences. If she takes the moral high ground Maya could end up dead, but if she acts like her enemies she could very well survive to keep fighting.
John Twelve Hawks' (who, by the way, is a figure of mystery himself, having never been photographed or met his publisher — according to his publisher he only communicates via the Internet, fax machines, or using a voice scrambler over the telephone) book The Traveler is the first part of The Fourth Realm trilogy. If the next two books live up to the standards set by this one we're in for a thrilling ride over the next little while.