Review: The Twelve, Justin Cronin

I read The Passage about eighteen months ago and upon finishing it had that horrible “Nooo!” feeling that comes from finishing a story that ends on a cliffhanger. The first time I ever felt like that was after watching The Empire Strikes Back at the cinema (when they were rereleased).  Aged ten, I had absolutely adored the first instalment and been incredibly excited about there being a sequel but when it ended, I turned to my mother and was absolutely furious.  This wasn’t how stories were supposed to end!  Han Solo locked in carbonite?  Luke not having defeated Darth Vader yet? The film people had done it wrong, they’d messed up, they hadn’t finished it properly and I, the innocent viewer, was being forced to suffer.  I had a similar moment of horror about nine months later when I saw West Side Story on the stage and discovered that sometimes stories end sadly.  Anyway, cliffhangers are tough, especially when you have no idea when the next part will be available.  I have grown up a lot since those emotional days, A Song of Ice and Fire remains unfinished but I go about my daily business without any histrionics at all.

Still, I was very happy to see The Twelve hit the shelves although I then had the further wait for it to come out in paperback.  Anyway, the wait is at long last over, I’ve read the thing, I know what happens to everybody although goodness knows how long it’ll be before the final instalment comes out.  Still, it didn’t end in quite such a traumatic way so it’s fine.  On a stranger note, both this book and the last one seem to have been bound in a very distinctive kind of plastic and being the kind of person I am, I managed to peel the entire thing off.  I read a lot of books but this is the only series that seems to have this problem.  Anyway, not the point but I do like peeling things.

So, quick recap.  A bunch of soldiers in a bunker accidentally make ten Death Row prisoners into vampires.  The vampires predictably escape from the lab and Chaos Ensues.  Flash forward a hundred years and humanity is Struggling.  Justin Cronin is setting out to tell the story of vampires realistically – these are not Sparkle Vampires, they will not try to seduce the foolish, they also will not dress for dinner or steal in your window to drink your blood secretly.  Justin Cronin has created Virals and they are a good deal more intimidating.  They’re more like the I am Legend vampires but I mean in the film rather than the book.  They are completely deadly and they can get in your head.  Mankind never stood a chance.

The first book saw a group setting out from The Colony (one of the last human settlements left in the world), they were banished for slightly complicated reasons, not least due to the arrival of Amy, the Mystery Girl and anyway It Was Time To Move On.  Peter is their leader – Biblical metaphors come in fairly thick and fast in this story and he wants to Find His Brother and also they are all mildly curious about how to put an end to this whole Viral Plague thing.  So off they go a-searching.  There’s an awful lot of back story to how the Virals escaped and also how Amy came to be … but you’d need to read The Passage.  Which you should.

It interests me how sequels begin, TV series can do that thirty seconds of Previously On which can crow bar in the information necessary to enjoy the next hour but for books things can be trickier.  Some series, like Harry Potter just operate the “You’re either in or you’re out” theory but others try to be more helpful.  The Twelve kicks off with several pages of Biblical verse detailing the characters previous adventures which may very well be didactic but is at least creative.  I was actually impressed.

Justin Cronin, (c)

In the first book, it definitely felt as though every single character who ever supposedly died always turned up alive again.  While I’m not someone who enjoys a literary bloodbath, this did get kind of annoying because you’re not going to be upset when a character ‘dies’ when you’re expecting them to just turn up again thirty or forty pages later.  This time, I could see that Cronin was trying to over-compensate.  There are rather a few deaths and only one of those turns up again later … deaths ‘off stage’ are the ones that niggle me more.  Not having Theo or Mausami return felt the same as when a character leaves a TV series in between seasons because the directors couldn’t get the actor back … it’s unresolved.  Also, in the ‘teaser’ for The Twelve at the end of The Passage, the Last Stand in Denver character was introduced but he really didn’t last very far in, which made him seem like a bit of a diversion.  Just to be awkard, it also irritates me when characters are introduced part way in a series just to die – it’s a problem I have about the character of Sirius Black in Harry Potter.  Still, in the time of war/viral vampire attack, these things do happen.

Another interesting change this time around was the profanities – in the Passage the characters’ only swearword is “Flyers”, in reference to the virals.  Boy, do they use it … at the start of every sentence, chucked in the middle, it did get rather grating.  This time, when Peter meets up with Michael towards the beginning, Michael says, “A word to the wise, nobody says Flyers” and introduces Peter to the f word.  Bye bye flyers.  It still pops up now and again but it’s nowhere near as annoying.

Further background information comes in this book about the Expeditionary and also about Vorhees’ family … there is a very evocative chapter describing a day out from the compound which is ruined by an eclipse.  In that world, of course they would have no warning so although they thought that they would be safe in the daylight, they are completely caught out.  I also liked to hear more about Carter, who had seemed a little abandoned in The Passage – the twelve represents the convicted murderers who were transformed into virals, but amongst their number is Carter the Wrongfully Convicted whose temperament has influenced the virals he himself has created.

Fear the Dark

The new thing in this volume though was the Homeland … more immortals are introduced, thanks to Grey’s blood.  Again I liked to hear from Grey again, although I really hadn’t expected to … he seemed to gain some sort of redemption but I didn’t feel that this whole strand of the narrative quite came off.  Grey met Wolgast’s ex-wife Lila and the two of them went on the road but then in the course of events, they both end up being stuck in Homeland nearly one hundred years later.  I thought that Lila got a really raw deal – paternal love is celebrated through Wolgast’s love for Amy but maternal love is not feted in the same way.  Sarah loves her baby and this powers her on but Lila’s love for her little girl lost has just sent her crazy.

I cannot imagine what the loss of a child can do to someone but I will say that the plot device of a woman being crazy because she has lost her baby has been around since the beginning of time.  King Solomon had to rule over one such lunatic who wanted to have a baby ripped apart … it’s been done and it is so boring.  Lila’s brief moments of lucidity show what she might have been but when there is Wolgast who is so amazing and who channels his grief so positively, Lila seemed like a real let-down given that she was supposed to be his True Love.  Their relationship never really got a resolution … on the basis of The Passage, Lila did not seem like a significant enough character for resolution to be needed but by the end of The Twelve it felt unfinished.

I think that the ‘science’ behind what was going on with Grey’s blood also didn’t appeal to me.  I get the whole idea of the Virals eating nine people and then taking the tenth one ‘up’ (making them a viral too).  I could even get behind the theory that the Virals were trying to allow the human population to grow again, having completely decimated them.  I got really hazy though on the idea that the Viral blood had some kind of restorative properties.  It’s like how in True Blood, vampire blood is some kind of hallucinogenic for humans (very sketchy on details, I don’t watch the show, this is second hand information and potentially incorrect) – it just seems like the Jump the Shark moment for vampire fiction, at least for somebody like me who doesn’t really like vampires.

I didn’t love this book as much as I did the previous one, partly I suppose because The Passage was introducing an exciting if scary new world whereas The Twelve didn’t bring anything very new.  The relationships between the characters did not seem to have really moved on … this seemed to be reflected by Michael’s unwillingness to commit to his girlfriend, nobody really knew what it was they wanted.  In the previous book, I had been rooting for Alicia and Peter to sort themselves out but I guess it is hard for love to survive one of you being turned into a vampire.  Amy as a character seemed to have grown, she seemed far more earth-bound although still not always easy to understand.  The moment where she Became a Woman reminded me of the film Species (which is an awful movie) but I could see that her being an eerie little girl wasn’t going to last forever.  Her final scene was truly beautiful and echoed the ending of the first book … I hope things work out well for Amy in the third instalment.

Cronin has created a world that I completely believed in and even in the second volume, its rules and regulations are consistent and easy to follow but I think that it didn’t quite have the shock factor that the first one have.  There are moments when it does, like the passage with the eclipse or even at the beginning parts with the Last Stand but when I finished The Passage, I remember being surprised at how emotional I felt and I didn’t really feel that with The Twelve.  I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t so much of a Wow.  But don’t get me wrong, I’ll be reading the third one when the time comes and no doubt peeling the cover off that one too … seriously, Random House, sort it out!

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The Twelve (The Passage, #2) by Justin Cronin
Published by Orion Publishing Co (United Kingdom) on April 25th 2013
Pages: 740
ISBN: 075288333X

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