Book Review: Spark by John Twelve Hawks

John Twelve Hawks is a master at the dystopia technological society a la 1984 yet scarily realistic. Spark is no different.

Hawks’ writing in Spark serves as a reminder of how connected we are to technology and how many of us turn into machines; dead.

Very similar to Spark’s protagonist Jacob Underwood.

Spark Goodreads SynopsisJacob Underwood is a contract employee of the Special Services Section, a shadow department in the faceless multinational corporation DBG. Jacob is not a businessman…he is a hired assassin…and his job is to neutralize problems deemed unacceptable by Unknownthe corporation. Jacob is not like other employees, nor is he like other people. Suffering from Cotard’s syndrome-a real condition that causes people to believe they are dead-Jacob perceives himself as nothing but a Shell with no emotion and no sense of right or wrong. Emily Buchanan is a bright young second-year associate for DBG, and she has disappeared without a trace. Suspecting she may have stolen valuable information and a fortune from the company, Miss Holquist-Jacob’s handler at DBG-assigns him the task of tracking her down and neutralizing her. Jacob’s condition allows him to carry out assignments with ruthless, logical precision-devoid of guilt, fear, or dishonor. But as his new assignment draws him inside a labyrinthine network of dark dealings, Jacob finds himself up against something he is completely incapable of understanding. Spark is an ingenious and chilling vision of modern-day humanity under constant, invasive surveillance and a pulse-pounding game of cat and mouse.

Let me start out by saying that I really enjoyed this novel. Written in first person, Jacob’s voice and point of view is like nothing I’ve read before. Jacob, along with the world he lives in, is clearly written with just the right amount of description. I felt like I was a ghost following Jacob around. Which is funny considering that Jacob believes himself to be dead. Or at least a being that does not entirely exist.

What I love about this book is that it’s a well written metaphor for society today, tackling ideas like free choice and will and what it means to be alive.

Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. – Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Jacob lives in a present-day world where everything and everyone is constantly watched and tracked. For their supposed safety. And there are always rebels, those who seek to show that this false sense of comfort isn’t always the best idea.

Jacob soon becomes entangled in a chase where a truth is pushing to be revealed. A truth that could change this society’s fabric. Jacob simply lives; he gets an assignment, he completes it, he gets paid, and that’s it. Sometimes he likes to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

[Jacob] sees the world clearly, without the desire to create a story. The future is meaningless to [him]; [he] can’t imagine what could be or should be – only what is.

I believe Jacob to be an extreme example how some wish to live – simply and in the present. But he only simply exists.

Everything exists. Those value you attach to objects … beauty and ugliness … love and hatred … are just words

I like the above quote because it holds some truth to it. It’s extreme, but ultimately everyone sees things so differently that in the end, everything does simply exist. But as humans we feel the need to make connections and that’s why we attach words and feelings to objects, people, and events that surround us.

Jacob, being the unattached being that he is, does see himself as a slave to certain things like other people are in this society.

Because I was dead, I was alive.

It seems that to do more than just exist, to live and do so freely, you have to detach yourself from anything meaningless. Anything that take you away from the present moment. Because you cannot change the past and you cannot determine the future.

* * *

I have to say, my expectation going in was that I was going to really enjoy this book and be hanging off the edge of my seat the whole time. My expectation was both met and not quite met.

It was met because I really enjoyed reading this book. It was certainly unexpected for me to come away from this book with so many thoughts.

But there was one thing that wasn’t met and that was the thriller part. At least, I was expecting a short intro/ buildup and then all the adventure and gripping events would start to happen. Instead, there was a steady buildup to the climax, where everything really, really good started happening.

While it was an expectation that was not quite met, I understand why the book turned out the way it did. Jacob, because of his syndrome, does not experience or perceive emotions, like fear or anxiety. Jacob was so well written, that not once did I get the feeling that Jacob was starting to feel anxious or fear.

At this point, I really wanted to write something about one event in the book, but figured it would be too close to a spoiler. But I will leave you with these two great quotes:

“Action requires courage,” Thomas said. “Inaction on requires excuses.”

“We’re not captive to our past Mr. Underwood. We’re not doomed to a certain future. Unlike machines, we can always choose a new direction for our journey.”

And those two quotes I think sum up a couple of the morals of the story quite perfectly.

So, I know this was a weird review with a rant in the middle, but overall I highly enjoy Hawks’ writing and I really really liked this novel. I recommend it to anyone looking for an interesting character and POV and a well written story.

So, are you interested?

XO Nicole

10 thoughts on “Book Review: Spark by John Twelve Hawks

  1. […] So, dystopia stories are not really unique that much anymore. I’ve seen two different types: You either get a technology based, big brother kind of future or you get post-apocalyptic, more wasteland of sorts. Spark falls in the first category. What’s unique is the main character – he suffers from Cotard’s syndrome – a real condition that causes people to believe they are dead – he perceives himself as nothing but a Shell with no emotion and no sense of right or wrong. My review here. […]


  2. […] In this stand alone novel, we have an assassin main character, Jacob, who has suffers from Cotard’s syndrome, a real condition that causes people to believe they are dead. He sees himself as a shell with no real sense of right or wrong. He works for a huge international corporation and his new assignment is to find a young employee of the corporation who is suspect of stealing info. This new assignment however, bring Jacob into a labyrinth of dark dealings he is not used to. Read my review here. […]


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