Well, finally! In June 2010, I wrote here that I’d just read
The Passage, Justin Cronin’s kick-ass post-apocalyptic vampire thriller, and that he’d delivered an ending so powerful that I hated him for it. After all, we’d have to wait two damn years for more.
Turns out we had to wait two damn years and three months. The nerve!!
Anyway, the wait is over. I’ve read The Twelve (Ballantine), and it’s wonderful. Was it worth the wait? Oh, yeah. This time around, Cronin has shaken things up a bit. If you’re expecting The Twelve to simply pick up where The Passage left off, I’ve got some bad news for you. Instead, Cronin jumps forward in time. We get a good, hard look at the aftermath of what was about to happen at the end of The Passage — but we don’t actually see it happen. Instead, and more elegantly, we see who it killed, the lives it tore apart, and the narrative strands it knotted up.
For much of this book, Cronin jumps back and forth between characters, crafting scenes that are sharply written and even more sharply plotted. There’s a chess game going on here, and Cronin is both players. He seems to want you to luxuriate in this novel, soaking up character, motivation and conflict. And there’s plenty of all three. What I really, really like about The Twelve is that while it’s connected to The Passage — significantly — it isn’t a retread. It’s not just more of the same. It assumes we know something about this world and these people, but at the same time, somehow, it operates in such a way that you’re always suspicious. Do you know what you think you know? As it turns out, the whole virals-ransacking-the-world thing is just the surface story. There’s a lot more to what’s going on than meets the eye. Best of all, the villains this time out aren’t the virals we’ve come to know and fear. The Passage expertly drew the conflict between humans and virals. It was a very detailed, desperate primer on how to survive. The Twelve expertly does something else. It asks the question: what now? And as it strives for an answer, it serves up a new group of villains: other survivors.
This new novel is as much about political lust as bloodlust. The humans’ hunger for power as much as the virals’ hunger for sustenance. In a way, Cronin seems to be asking, who are the real vampires here? Who’s sucking what out of whom? The virals suck blood, and it’s violent, merciless. But the politicians suck something far more valuable: life itself. And it’s just as violent and probably even more merciless.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of blood here. But most of the moves and shakes aren’t about avoiding the virals. If anything, The Twelve is more subtle. Even with all its darkness, it’s about love, where The Passage was about fear. The worst part: the third and final book, The City of Mirrors, isn’t due till 2014.
Damn that Justin Cronin! ◊