The Twelve – Justin Cronin
For me, “the Passage,” Justin Cronin’s first book was a hit. Although I was not a massive fan of the format in which he changed the cast of characters about a third of the way into the story, it seemed to work. I found that Justin could write action pieces well and invoke tension into his prose. I was really looking forward to “The Twelve” then.
At the end of THE PASSAGE, the great viral plague had left a small group of survivors clinging to life amidst a world transformed into a nightmare. In the second volume of this epic trilogy, this same group of survivors, led by the mysterious, charismatic Amy, go on the attack, leading an insurrection against the virals: the first offensives of the Second Viral War. To do this, they must infiltrate a dozen hives, each presided over by one of the original Twelve. Their secret weapon: Alicia, transformed at the end of book one into a half human, half viral - but whose side, in the end, is she really on?
I am going to be upfront and say I was left pretty underwhelmed by this book. Maybe I am in a funk at the moment as the last three books I have tried (“Darth Plagueis” and GGK’s, “The Summer Tree”) I didn’t enjoy as much as I thought I should have or as much as other reviews suggested I should have.
I found the characters in, “the Twelve,” far less engaging than Justin’s first book. Justin adopts a similar format to, “the Passage,” although this time I did not feel a sense of annoyance or loss when the book moved on to introduce a whole new cast. Whether that was a good thing or not, I am not sure.
That does not mean I did not enjoy any characters in this book. Lila in particular is very interesting. Justin does a magnificent job of portraying her madness and the conflict she feels in knowing she is mad.
Sara is also an intriguing character and the only one I felt myself routing for throughout the novel. I think this is because she is the only character that seems to remain consistent throughout.
Quite often Justin Cronin introduces a character, and just as you are getting to identify with them and look forward to uncovering their story, he moves on to another POV. This is a classic technique to leave the reader wanting more. However, I found that when Justin did return to said character, they no longer acted the same way as when we last saw them. There are reasons for this and these are explained but it made the reading process very disjointed.
The “virals” themselves could not possibly live up to the fearsome creatures we met in the first book and that is because they were now too familiar and we know more about them. Justin knows this and to his credit embraces it. Rather than give the reader more of the same, he focuses on the plot around their existence which suddenly becomes more complex and mysterious.
There are also several “cool” scenes throughout the novel. These help elevate the story from being almost bland in places to enjoyable with interludes of information. The chapter in the fields is excellent for example, as is a scene towards the end.
These rare scenes are so good, that you wish the whole novel was more like them. It is no coincidence that both scenes feature characters that have been developed and are consistent either.
For the most part though, the constantly shifting time periods and the large cast of mostly generic characters left me frustrated as I tried to work out who was who. Maybe, this is where the Kindle fails, as I was not aware of the appendix at the back which helps with the characters until I had almost finished the book. Would this have helped? Probably, but a book shouldn’t have to rely on such things.
Cronin’s writing is still very good however. The way he writes scenes is effortless, describing settings briefly without impeding on the story. The dialogue is good, although there are a few borrowed phrases when he goes for humour here and there.
I’ve read some reviews that complain about the Hollywood style ending engineered towards the forthcoming films. I have to say I don’t agree with these, but then again, I didn’t find the final climax to be anything to spectacular. If anything it was disorganised and rushed.
“The Twelve” then was a bit of a disappointment. It had many good things about it, but overall, I found the story dull and I struggled to care what was going on, especially around the second third. This left me annoyed as I really wanted to enjoy the novel as others have.
My rating: 7.0