Justin Cronin's The Twelve is the sequel to the bestselling The Passage (Canada, USA, Europe). And though it was received with much less fanfare than its predecessor, I felt that this second installment was as good, if not better, than The Passage.
In this day and age, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic novels are a dime a dozen, and The Twelve contains its fair share of clichés and moments of déjà vu. And yet, although most of the plot feels like nothing new, Cronin is talented enough to write an engaging story arc that nevertheless keeps you turning those pages. I believe that it's the author's knack for superior characterization which allows him to maintain readers' interest in such a fashion. For all that you keep telling yourself that you've seen all this before, The Twelve remains hard to put down.
And since I brought The Passage with me during my trip to Mexico last year, it felt right to bring The Twelve along for this new Southeast Asian adventure. And once again, this convoluted supernatural thriller proved to be a very entertaining read. Indeed, if you are looking for dense, fast-paced, and satisfying genre reads, both The Passage and The Twelve are perfect vacation reading material.
Here's the blurb:
In his internationally bestselling and critically acclaimed novel The Passage, Justin Cronin constructed an unforgettable world transformed by a government experiment gone horribly wrong. Now the scope widens and the intensity deepens as the epic story surges forward with . . .
In the present day, as the man-made apocalypse unfolds, three strangers navigate the chaos. Lila, a doctor and an expectant mother, is so shattered by the spread of violence and infection that she continues to plan for her child’s arrival even as society dissolves around her. Kittridge, known to the world as “Last Stand in Denver,” has been forced to flee his stronghold and is now on the road, dodging the infected, armed but alone and well aware that a tank of gas will get him only so far. April is a teenager fighting to guide her little brother safely through a landscape of death and ruin. These three will learn that they have not been fully abandoned—and that in connection lies hope, even on the darkest of nights.
One hundred years in the future, Amy and the others fight on for humankind’s salvation . . . unaware that the rules have changed. The enemy has evolved, and a dark new order has arisen with a vision of the future infinitely more horrifying than man’s extinction. If the Twelve are to fall, one of those united to vanquish them will have to pay the ultimate price.
A heart-stopping thriller rendered with masterful literary skill, The Twelve is a grand and gripping tale of sacrifice and survival.
As was the case in the first volume, Justin Cronin's vivid narrative creates an imagery that leaps right off the page and he has a veritable knack for creating well-drawn characters you can't help but root for. I felt that he was playing his cards too close to his chest in the first installment, yet The Twelve reveals quite a few answers to all those questions raised by The Passage. I also felt that the author did a much better job bridging the gaps in the timeline, as portions of the book occur both in the present (Year Zero) and almost a century later. I'm not sure I liked just how basically everything was interwoven and how it all came together at the end, as it felt too contrived somehow, yet that showed just how intricate the overall story arc appears to be.
As was the case in the first one, I preferred the apocalyptic sections of the novel. Witnessing how the USA gradually disintegrated as the virals multiplied and how that affected those protagonists through whose eyes we see events unfold was great. Kittridge, Danny, Guilder, Lila, and Grey were a disparate bunch of characters and they offered interesting perspectives as the world was crumbling down around them. It was interesting to discover just how their decisions and actions would have repercussions years later. The same can be said of what takes place in "The Field," which occurs 79 years later. At times, I found myself wondering why Cronin was showing us these things, but it all makes sense when the novel returns to the future and you can see the consequences of the echoes generated by those events decades later.
With the groundwork established, Cronin takes us forward 97 years after the virus outbreak, roughly five years following the events chronicled in The Passage. The ending of the first volume changed the lives of several men and women. And though it was fun to see those familiar faces, it was engrossing to see how different some of them had become. Many are coping the best they can, yet Amy, Peter, Alicia, Hollis, Lucius, Michael, and the others, now tempered by their involvement in the destruction of one of the Twelve and the death toll which ensued, have all gone through some major character development that makes them seem even more genuine.
And though the post-apocalyptic sections of the novel were not as enjoyable, in my humble opinion, than what took place in the past, it was intriguing to see how Cronin created a vast tapestry woven of so many different threads and how they all came together at the end. Once more, it was interesting to see how humanity is managing to survive in the parts of the book focusing on Kerrville, the oil road, and Freeport, in Texas.
Thankfully, The Twelve doesn't feature as many plot holes as its predecessor and it does answer many questions. Still, the early stages of Project Noah remain steeped in mystery and it would be fascinating to discover more about this in the third volume, The City of Mirrors. As he did in The Passage, Justin Cronin brings this one to a close with a rousing finale that should have you lining up for the next installment.
The Passage raised the bar rather high and generated lofty expectations for its sequel. I feel that Cronin more than rose up to the challenge and he has now raised the bar even higher. If you are looking for another epic, entertaining, richly detailed, and complex supernatural thriller, this has to be it!