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Book Review: The Twelve by Justin Cronin

Last week I made the hysterical announcement that The Twelve, Justin Cronin’s followup to The Passage, had come out.  I rushed home, bought it, read it with a concentration bordering on autism, and now I’m done and we can talk about it. A little, because I don’t want to spoil it.

A commenter asked if I thought I’d need to re-read The Passage to get back up to speed.  It’s a good question.  The hardcover was nearly 800 pages and had lots of characters spanning a couple of eras.

The Twelve begins with a pretty good recap of the events leading up to this point, presented almost as a series of scriptural verses.  Sort of like In the beginning there was this, and then this happened, and then they, and then she…But still, when I got into the story proper, I couldn’t remember everything that had happened in Passage. Names were familiar, places too, but I couldn’t bring it all back.  So I read the wikipedia entry and that was plenty, so if you’re in the same boat upon starting, there’s my hack advice.

Now then:

The Twelve

My own brief recap:

  • A military experiment goes wrong (have they ever gone right in a novel?) in the near future . Rather than producing super-soldiers, it produces a bunch of glowing vampire-like creatures that bring on the apocalypse in a big way
  • The experiment involved 12 death row inmates who are now The Twelve from the title
  • When a member of the twelve is killed, all of the vampires (called Virals) that it created die with it
  • Let’s go find them and kill them!

Much of The Twelve involves a group’s efforts to find and eliminate the twelve, saving humanity.  But then what would we have for the third volume in the trilogy? 800 pages of happy rebuilding?  Nope.  Much is resolved by the final page, but more is left open.  I’ll say that I can’t wait for the conclusion, which stinks, because I have to.  And books this large don’t seem to get written very quickly…

Cronin has done something special with these two books.  I think they’re as literary as anything with this many scenes of throat-chomping and shootouts could be.  They can be read purely for story, but Cronin also has a gift with language.  There were many times when I stopped to reread a sentence and just thought: That’s exactly right.  That might be the best way to say it.

Like I said, if you don’t care about that, it’s still a big, exciting, fast-paced story.  It also gets into some Big Ideas for the philosophical amongst you.  The final third of the book says some very interesting things about insurgent warfare, insanity, parenting, the varieties of the slave-master relationship, religion, and more.

If you think you are interested in another giant book about glowing vampires, then I can nearly guarantee you that you’ll love The TwelveI did.  It’s the most fun I’ve had with a book this year, and I’ve read a lot of great books in 2012.




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