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'The Twelve' by Justin Cronin - Book Review

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The Twelve by Justin Cronin

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

Ballantine Books
  • The Twelve by Justin Cronin was published in October 2012
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • 589 pages
In 2010, I wrote that The Passage "is a new standard for provocative and arresting apocalyptic literature." My opinion hasn’t changed. Cronin’s first in his trilogy was a breathtaking epic that was worth all 784 pages to read.

In 2012, he has returned with The Twelve. It’s worth its 589 pages to read, too. But despite the nearly 200 pages less to read for the sequel, it is much more laborious to get through. The Twelve just didn’t have the vitality and verve that The Passage seemed to pulsate with. Its middle section was a bit of a chore and the shorter idiosyncratic jumps in plotline were a tad jarring and disorienting.

Not to mention, you need to read The Passage again before The Twelve if you want to be able to pick up and connect every new storyline Cronin introduces from the past to the multiple presents (various A.V. – After Virus – time frames). Not to mention the frantic jumps in geography. From army forces in Kerrville, Texas to the totalitarian-ruled labor camp in Iowa, to the wanderers in the deserted plains in between, the reader’s eyes need to fly as swiftly and knowledgeably as the flyers jump to keep up. Not that I’m blaming Cronin. No need to cater to the crowd when you can craft a wicked good tale like The Twelve that could potentially stand on its own. But I’ll do my best to try to catch you up in this review.

Cronin’s epic is about a time, people and place dealing with an evil unleashed in the shape of devouring bloodsuckers with one mind and no inhibitions. They’re a hive of villains, with the original Twelve virals (also known as dracs, smokes, flyers, etc.) consuming or changing any and every human in sight. However, there is a little girl named Amy who may be the key to curing the outbreak and saving the world. If she, along with her friends – Peter, Alicia, Greer, Hollis, Sara, Michael and more – can survive.

Though this second novel is entitled The Twelve, in many ways, the original Twelve virals take a backseat to a few new villains, some perhaps even more frightening than the originals. With the introduction of Guilder and Sod, two humans changed by the scenario who are enacting enforced balance and peace via a totalitarian government, Cronin begs the questions: "Who’s more horrific after the apocalypse? The virals that caused it or the humans who can’t overcome it?" Because as much as Cronin is delving in horrific fantasy, he is also asking questions of how humanity is shaped by biology, psychology, eschatology, anthropology, government and religion in the midst of chaos.

Like most sequels in a trilogy, The Twelve is somehow darker than The Passage -- some moments creating an almost violent kneejerk reaction. The things that happen to Alicia in this book in particular will cause some to turn away from the pages. And this novel doesn’t quite have the bleeding heart that the first did (and I think it suffers some from it). Separating Peter, Alicia and Amy for most of The Twelve slowed my desire to get through it. However, Cronin does not disappoint. The last 100 pages were near perfect after the various jumps and introductions and plot strands and collisions. And you’ll have tears brought to your eyes with how Cronin brings Wolgast back into Amy’s life, as well as how he includes Wolgast’s ex-wife, Lila, who has a prominent part to play in where things are and how things will end.

Your eyes will be searching for relief in the end, wondering what is going to become of the few characters left and if the evil of the virals will be eradicated, both externally in the world, and internally in the remaining humanity. "All eyes" indeed. And all hearts, minds and strength will be needed for taking on the third and final book, The City of Mirrors, due to be released in 2014.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

Background & Resources For Book Clubs

The Twelve by Justin Cronin is the second book in an apocalyptic trilogy that began in 2010 with The Passage and will conclude in 2014 with City of Mirrors.The Passage was 784 pages and The Twelve has 589. Furthermore, they have many connected storylines. If you need a refresher on the themes from The Passage before reading The Twelve, check out this book club guide on The Passage. If you would like to go deeper into The Twelve, here are book club questions on The Twelve.

If your group is interested in books like Cronin's trilogy, you might want to check out The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan -- in which the vampire legend is considered as a twisted biological strain, merging ancient fears with modern science. The Strain trilogy continued with the 2010 release, ,The Fall, and the conclusion, The Night Eternal, which was released in 2012.

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