Anyone who has read The Passage will undoubtedly have The Twelve on their reading lists. Continuing on from Justin Cronin’s best-selling apocalyptic tome, the sequel (the second part in a planned trilogy) revisits the characters that populated the first novel as well as introducing some new ones.
[This review contains mild spoilers]
For those who haven’t read The Twelve’s predecessor, here’s the story; in an attempt to create a new super human the American government unwittingly creates a group of fearsome creatures after infecting twelve convicts with a vampiric virus during testing. When they escape America soons falls to the new race of blood-sucking creatures. The first book told the story of Amy, a young girl chosen to also be infected with the virus, as well as a small colony desperately trying to survive almost a century on from the outbreak.
After a small refresher (in the form of a Biblical list) we’re transported to present-day America during the time of the outbreak. This part of the book is populated with characters that were at the previous novel’s peripheral vision as well as some new faces. Exploring the different reactions people have to the virus, it provides some history to the events that took place in The Passage. Stand-out characters include The Last Stand in Denver and Lila.
It’s not long before Cronin is dipping around in time again but this time readers will be more prepared (since his previous leap in The Passage saw 97 years pass in the turn of a page). The convention allows for some neat interlinking of characters as well as some shock revelations.
Whilst the ending of its predecessor suggested the next chapter would focus primarily on finding and slaughtering the remaining members of the twelve it soon becomes apparent that such a task is nigh-impossible. Worse yet, a mysterious woman is disrupting tranquil routines whilst the virals are behaving in new and unbelievable ways.
The main strains of the story focus on two colonies; we discover that five years have passed since the happenings of The Passage and join Amy, Peter, Michael and co as they co about their daily lives. The other strain focuses on a new colony run by ‘red eyes’, a colony where many of the inhabitants of the colony focused on in The Passage have been taken to.
Whilst it still manages to capture the reader in its flurry of information and story arcs, The Twelve sometimes feels less structured than The Passage. Its constant traversing of America and its reliance on the reader’s ability to remember the minutiae of the previous book for all of its reveals makes for several visits backwards through the book.
Though spectacular, the finale is not the most intriguing part of this book. Though it is well built up and offers twists and turns aplenty, the absorbing element of this trilogy remains the draw of its characters, namely Amy. No longer simply The Girl From Nowhere, Amy is now a stronger character than ever before and offers an intriguing contrast to the remaining twelve, with her capability for love and compassion setting her apart.
As well as exploring the humanity of relationships held between humans and those exposed to the virus, the book also looks at the barbaric nature inherent in humanity. Characters like Alicia and Amy may well exist, able to overcome their genetic situation and co-exist with humans, but Cronin reminds us that in humanity there is also an evil that wants out. Alongside Amy and the other now familiar names come the likes of Guilder and Grey, people who perhaps best quantify this split in what it is to be human. Whilst Grey actively tries to deny what he is in order to protect life, Guilder openly fights against his humanity, instead being consumed by a lust for power and his embarrassment of spurned love.
Once again the ending offered here is rather open and relies on there being another installment. Loose threads abound but, with the third part expected to be released in 2014, readers have a while yet for the epic conclusion of Cronin’s fantasy. With the recent ferver for all things vamp, Justin Cronin continues to carve an impressive niché in a well-trod genre.