Tonawanda News

November 7, 2012

BOOK NOOK: Number of characters unwieldy, but 'Twelve' a fun read

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Editor’s note: “The Twelve” is the second in a trilogy of books by Justin Cronin. If you haven’t read the first book, “The Passage,” please note, some spoilers lie ahead.

Perhaps my biggest complaint about Justin Cronin’s followup to his 2010 bestseller “The Passage” is that perhaps the publisher should have put the list of characters in the front of the book, not on the last page.

Yeah, I didn’t discover that oh-so-valuable resource until I literally finished the last sentence in “The Twelve,” part two in Cronin’s supernatural, post-apocalyptic zombie/vampire saga. 

The story, like its predecessor, bounces back and forth between time frames that span roughly 100 years — heck, there are even some small references to 1,000 years in the future at times. Each time frame — there are three — and location has its own set of characters, many of whom are held over from the first book. Most are entirely new.

I count more than 80 individually named characters. That’s a lot to keep track of, especially when you have an April, an Alicia and an Amy — too many “A” names! — but it’s worth it.

Ultimately my inability to keep track of the number of characters in this story isn’t all that important. (It might be more a symptom of the fact that I would go long stretches of time without reading the book.)

What matters is the story.

Mostly set about 100 years in our future, millions of grotesque, human blood-drinking creatures have taken over the United States, leaving only small clusters of humans struggling to survive in a harsh world. The vampires, or virals as they’re called in the story, are the result of a science experiment gone wrong in the attempt to create 12 superhuman-like killing machines for the military. 

And, oh yeah, the original 12 were all death-row inmates. 

Our “heroes” from the first book, Alicia, Amy, Peter Sarah and Lucius have discovered that killing one of the 12 original virals will subsequently kill all their progeny, leaving the world free of the blood-suckers. 

The protagonists are split up across the country, some presumed dead, each hoping to take out the remaining 11 — the first one, Babcock, had been destroyed by the end of the first novel. 

“The Twelve,” like it’s predecessor, is the quintessential page-turner. I may have gone long stretches between reading the book, but when I was able to pick it up, I hunkered down for hours. Cronin can weave a tale ... and weave he did, going from our present day to 1,000 years in the future, to 97 years in the future and back again. And again.

What’s most interesting about this series is where it sits in the lexicon of vampire literature. Cronin doesn’t romanticize the lives of these creatures like Anne Rice’s brooding, beautiful vampires. Neither is it a sickly sweet love story like the Twilight series currently co-opting the minds and hearts of American teens.

Cronin’s vampires are so unlike any vampire I’ve ever seen in literature and film, that I hesitate to even use the word in association with the creatures. Heck, even Cronin calls them virals, the only hint of their vampiric nature coming from the fact that they subsist on human blood and a small reference to a character much like Renfield in “Dracula.”

Cronin’s virals are brutal, grotesque and inhuman in appearance, they don’t even speak except for the odd telepathic, cryptic communication. These creatures aren’t beautiful, clever, sexy or desirable. 

Perhaps the back-and-forth nature of the narrative combined with dozens of characters might make the novel a bit unwieldy at times, but if you’re looking for a fresh take on the vampire myth and a post-apocalyptic setting to boot, this series is worth checking out.

• WHAT: "The Twelve" • BY: Justin Cronin • GRADE: B+

Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.