Title: The Twelve
Author: Justin Cronin
Genre: Horror, (Post-)Apocalypse, Dystopia
Publisher: Random House (US) / Orion (UK)
Publication Date: October 2012
Hardcover: 568 Pages
THE EPIC STORY OF THE PASSAGE CONTINUES
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?
Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Passage trilogy
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: I loved The Passage – hell, it was my favorite read of 2010. I have been waiting for this sequel for two years!
WARNING: This review contains spoilers.
Trigger warning: Rape
I’m going to preface this review by saying that I was so intensely excited for this book, having loved The Passage so very much.
Sometimes, expectations can be a bitch.
I always like to start off my reviews with a synopsis of the book – but in the case of The Twelve, I’m not even sure I can provide an accurate synopsis because the novel is so ridiculously scattered. But I will do my best:
The book begins with a lengthy Prologue written in a numbered, pseudo-biblical fashion (which caused the first tingling of unease in my mind):
1. For it came to pass that the world had grown wicked, and men had taken war into their hearts, and committed great defilements upon every living thing, so that the world was as a dream of death;
2. And God looked up on his creation with a great sadness, for his spirit no longer abided with mankind.
3. And the LORD said: As in the days of Noah, a great deluge shall sweep over the earth; and this shall be a deluge of blood. The monsters of men’s hearts shall be made flesh, devouring all in their path. And they shall be called Virals.
(This goes on for three chapters in the same pretentiously overblown and numbered fashion.) Following the prologue, The Twelve is split into 12 parts (called books), each containing their own separate chapters. In Book I, the story briefly jumps to the year 97 A.V. (After Virals) – which would theoretically be where we left off at the end of The Passage – but after just two quick chapters in the “present,” Book II commences, jumping all the way back to the days immediately following Project NOAH’s breach and the apocalyptic end of civilization (aka Year Zero). Here, we are introduced to a handful of disparate characters – an autistic bus driver, a lone gunman making a last stand in viral-overrun Denver, a delusional pregnant doctor named Lila Kyle suffering from serious post traumatic stress syndrome, and a reformed pedophile janitor named Lawrence Grey (who worked for NOAH), amongst many others. The majority of these characters disappear without a trace as Book II progresses, and though the disparate group comes together (sort of) by this particular section’s end, most of these characters serve no other purpose in the actual plot at large.
Then in Book III, the narrative jumps to 79 A.V. – still not back to our core group of characters from The Passage! – and details a massacre in a field, when a group of survivors made the catastrophically stupid mistake of going outside of the colony’s safe walls to have a summer picnic with their children (come on, people – really?). Only at Book IV – some 250 pages into The Twelve – we finally move back to the story proper in 97 A.V., picking up with the familiar characters we got to know in The Passage and continuing with their journey to find and kill the remaining eleven “boss” virals, the original test subjects of Project NOAH. Except…we quickly learn that Peter, Alicia and company haven’t had any successes. The Eleven have wizened up to the Expeditionary’s scheme, and have taken an entirely new tack.
Then the book jumps to a completely new city, where a Very Bad Man – Horace Guilder, Deputy Director of Project NOAH (aka, the guy who decided to weaponize vampirism and screwed the pooch) – rules as dictator under the sinister moniker of “the Director.”1 This new city in Iowa, Homeland, captures people from other colonies, indiscriminately raping and killing anyone in their path. Oh, and Horace the Director and his cronies, the so called “red eyes”? They are a whole new kind of viral-human crossbreed in cahoots with the Twelve – I mean, the Eleven.2
I’ll stop there. Needless to say, the main thrust of The Twelve is hard to describe in a coherent way because the book is literally all over the place. Exacerbating the structural issues and outlandishly excessive page count (the first 300 pages could have been pared down significantly) is the bizarre pseudo-spiritual/religion/destiny thread running throughout. The pretentious prologue, unfortunately, is only the beginning – we are reacquainted with a character that Finds God, there is overall talk of God and Destiny; even Amy, the Girl from Nowhere herself, is reaching levels of decidedly religious martyrdom and magicalness. I’m not exactly sure what Cronin is aiming for with The Twelve – beyond the metaphysical, dreamspacy jumble, there are also clumsy and overt parallels drawn to the Holocaust (captives in Homeland are transported en masse in horrible conditions, sorted and separated, shorn and tattooed), and to insurgents that resort to suicide bombings and other attacks in defiance. While the allusions are obvious and potential fodder for deeper examination of humanity and human nature, The Twelve never really explores any deeper significance of these horrific extremes. Because of this, the allusions feel gratuitous, implemented for pure revulsion and shock value.
There’s also an odd hollowness to the characters this time around – instead of focusing on the monstrous characters of the original virals, the Twelve (that are now Eleven) and a supernatural threat like the terrifying Babcock, we are introduced to a decidedly one note villain in the figure of Horace Guilder (who is OF COURSE a man that never was loved by his father, that was incapable of relationships with women and was horribly embarrassed by the prostitute he fell in love with, and so on and so forth). Even the time we spend with characters that we do remember and love from The Passage – Peter, Alicia and Sara primarily – and the newer more compelling characters we meet along the way (Lila) is too little, and far too late.
And then there is something deeply, horribly problematic in the portrayal of female characters. In the latter portion of the book, Alicia – who you’ll remember is the strongest female member of the cast, both physically thanks to Amy’s blood, and in terms of her development as a character – is horrendously brutalized and raped. Why is it necessary for Alicia to be brutally tortured and raped? WHY is it necessary for there to be sanctioned, systematic rape of female characters? WHY? Needless to say, the amount of brutalization to which females in this dystopian society are subjected is deeply disturbing.
I can’t even begin to express my level of disappointment and frustration with The Twelve. If The Passage was a riff on Stephen King at his ‘Salem’s Lot meets The Stand best, The Twelve is like King at his most bloated and ridiculous (think…Dreamcatcher or The Regulators). This is a middle book, and it reads like so much filler – occasionally exciting and momentarily engaging, but so choppy, confused and littered with problems that ultimately none of it seems to matter. At this point, I won’t be sticking around for book 3.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From the official excerpt (that is, Book III, Chapter 4):
Bernard Kittridge, known to the world as “Last Stand in Denver,” realized it was time to leave the morning the power went out.
He wondered what had taken so long. You couldn’t keep a municipal electrical grid running without people to man it, and as far as Kittridge could tell from the nineteenth floor, not a single human soul was left alive in the city of Denver.
Which was not to say he was alone.
He had passed the early hours of the morning—a bright, clear morning in the first week of June, temperatures in the mid-seventies with a chance of blood-sucking monsters moving in toward dusk—sunning on the balcony of the penthouse he had occupied since the second week of the crisis. It was a gigantic place, like an airborne palace; the kitchen alone was the size of Kittridge’s whole apartment. The owner’s taste ran in an austere direction: sleek leather seating groups that were better to look at than sit on, floors of twinkling travertine, small furry rugs, glass tables that appeared to float in space. Breaking in had been surprisingly simple. By the time Kittridge had made his decision, half the city was dead, or fled, or missing.
The cops were long gone. He’d thought about barricading himself into one of the big houses up in Cherry Creek, but based on the things he’d seen, he wanted someplace high. The owner of the penthouse was a man he knew slightly, a regular customer at the store. His name was Warren Filo. As luck would have it, Warren had come into the store the day before the whole thing broke to gear up for a hunting trip to Alaska. He was a young guy, too young for how much money he had— Wall Street money, probably, or one of those high-tech IPOs.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Rating: I honestly have no idea how to rate this book. I suppose if I’m being honest, I’ll give it a 4 – Devastatingly Disappointing
Reading Next: Dark Star by Bethany Frenette
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- Yes, which feels decidedly Walking Dead-ish. Not only does the Director share a similar name to the Governor, but they both are portrayed as stereotypically cheesy, over-the-top, not-to-be-trusted baddies. ↩
- Even though the Zero – aka Biggest Boss Viral that will be killed in the final stages of this particular video game – hamhandedly tells his brethren in melodramatic mindspeak, Oh, my brothers, my pain is as great as your own. But you will be Twelve again. For I have made another, one to watch and keep you in your place of rest. ↩