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The Traveler
John Twelve Hawks
Bantam Seal, 496 pages

The Traveler
John Twelve Hawks
According to his publisher, John Twelve Hawks (a pseudonym) "lives off the Grid."

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Traveler
SF Site Review: The Traveler

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

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Maya is trying to escape her past. Throughout her childhood her father trained her relentlessly as a warrior, spy and assassin. At twenty-six, she has twelve passports, is an expert at disguise and can kill a man in seconds, but she wants a normal life and she has been trying to build one in London, working in an office and living like an average person.

Nonetheless, when her father is murdered, she reluctantly shoulders the responsibility he has passed to her -- to travel to Los Angeles and protect two brothers who are being hunted by members of a secret organization. The odds are against her. Her enemies are entrenched in powerful positions in the US government, and they can use the full power of bureaucracies and surveillance networks against her. Worse, she doesn't believe in the cause that her father died for. She knows that the forces of oppression and control have won and a few individuals can't change that.

But she's going to fight anyway.

The Traveler is obviously written to be a bestseller. It has a young, butt-kicking female protagonist and an abundance of larger-than-life action, placed in a very near future US setting, peppered with accurate information about the alarming potential of computerized security systems under a repressive government, and leavened with a lot of profound-sounding spiritual nonsense cherry-picked from major religions.

This is a blend of La Femme Nikita and Highlander with a dash of William Gibson and The Prisoner. Warriors called "Harlequins" have been fighting a centuries-long secret war against the "Tabula," a ruthless bunch of control freaks, in order to defend "Travelers" -- mystics and prophets who have the power to influence the course of history. The Harlequins are losing this war because it's so difficult to hide in the modern world with its increasingly sophisticated surveillance systems.

Or maybe they're losing because they insist on carrying swords around. I mean, who needs high-tech face identification software when you just have to scan a crowd for people carrying sword cases? On the other hand, their sophisticated opponents don't even seem to know about orbiting satellites. I can Google my own car in my driveway and the bad guys can't track our heroes driving a van through the desert?

It takes a very skilled writer to overcome inherent silliness like that, but "John Twelve Hawks" manages to do so. His characterization is excellent. Maya is a compelling heroine and all the other viewpoint characters are vividly drawn and strongly motivated. The bit players are good, too, and readers get a colourful tour of American subcultures, including a Los Angeles garment sweat shop full of illegal immigrants, adherents of the Divine Church of Isaac T. Jones, and refugees from middle class meaninglessness who have formed an alternative collective in the Arizona desert.

The novel also plays very successfully on ambient 21st century fears, with its convincing use of real or almost real computer technology under the control of a menacing Big Brother. If you already feel paranoid about privacy and surveillance, this book will leave you ready to unplug everything and flee. The fact that some of the technology described doesn't work as advertised YET, is scant consolation.

And all this is delivered with expert pacing. We are thrown into the middle of action on the very the first page, and the tension just keeps rising all the way to a satisfying climax, with a few deft twists thrown in.

The book jacket tells us that John Twelve Hawks lives off the grid and this is his first novel, but this most certainly isn't a first novel and Twelve Hawks smells like a pen name. (For detailed speculation, visit the internet.) And naturally, this is a set up for a series, so expect a sequel soon.

Copyright © 2006 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at http://www.donna-mcmahon.com/.


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