Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Book review: The Twelve

The Twelve
Justin Cronin
Kindle Edition

I was reticent to take on Cronin's second part to his vampire-end-of-the-world epic so soon after finishing the first, mainly as I didn't want to have another 800 page saga to work through. Thankfully this book is only 500 odd pages long and feels a lot shorter than it's predecessor thanks to a plot that is a lot faster paced and less time spent describing every single minutiae of proceedings. For some that may be a turn off (it was something that made The Passage unusual) but in the interests of readability I was thankful for the change. I've kept spoilers to a minimum in this review but be warned it may give away minor plot points for this and the first book.

With so many characters in The Passage it could be very easy to forget who's who when starting The Twelve. Cronin neatly assists by using a prologue written in the form of a holy book, reciting the events that have passed in the previous book. The reader is then transported to Day 0, when the virus first hit, and introduced to a collection of characters from across America. Sadly most of these characters are not relevant to the rest of the book in any obvious way, though they are very interesting in their own right. I'll reserve judgement on that until I've read the third and final part, as it's possible they have more of a role to play than just as progenitors for the characters we meet later on. However a few are very important, including Lily, the wife of Agent Wolgast, who was a major player in book one. We also learn more about Grey, the janitor apparently chosen by Zero (the original infected man) for a greater purpose, as well as a character called Guilder, who goes on to become even worse than he was as a government spook.

Once again the plot time-warps from those terrifying days of the outbreak to the post-apocalyptic world humanity is getting used to living in. Unlike last time, we really get a glimpse of how horrendous this world can be, with totalitarianism rearing it's ugly head. At this point The Twelve starts to resemble stories like The Handmaid's Tale and delves into the nature of rebellion. While all this is going on there are narratives taking place with the other main characters we followed in book one, until all of their divergent stories begin to merge at the book's conclusion.

A fault with Cronin's work it's that it so often resembles other stories. Here we have a wonderfully fast-paced struggle against dictatorship and torture, but it isn't fresh; this has been done before and better. However as long as the story is read for it's own merits it is perfectly enjoyable; just don't think about it all too much. I also have to say I was disappointed that Cronin has fallen for the stale trope of "strong female character is raped and she goes badass as a result". Thankfully he handles the scene relatively tactfully and doesn't dwell on the details, but I don't think it was an entirely necessary scene. The only other issue I have with The Twelve (and with The Passage to a lesser extent) is the amount of coincidence at play. Characters just happen to find each other, despite the fact they are not aware of each others existence moments before. Now this could be explained in book three, as there are hints throughout this tale of a greater power at work. I'm really hoping Cronin has a good reveal there - if it turns out to be one of those "God did it" moments I'm not going to be impressed.

For anyone who read the Passage and enjoyed it then The Twelve is a must; this is more gripping and interesting story, so much so I think people could just jump in and read from this one. But I'd strongly suggest reading The Passage first, despite its bloatiness, as it sets the scene up and will make the character's experiences in The Twelve a lot more meaningful. It is an enjoyable read in a way the first book wasn't, and I'll be awaiting the publication of the final book in the trilogy, if only to see how Cronin is going to tie all of these divergent threads into one satisfying knot.

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