Book Review: The Twelve – Justin Cronin

The Twelve – Justin Cronin

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Why do you read a book twice? Because you enjoyed it so much, because you need to study it in further detail or because it completely threw you the first time around? Well for The Twelve I re-read it for a combination of all these reasons. Not only have I read it twice, but I literally read it back to back, cover to cover. I’ll explain why later, but first here’s a synopsis…

The Twelve (2012) is the second part of a trilogy that Cronin started with The Passage – a book that I found in equal parts compelling and terrifying.  In The Passage, a government research project into prolonging human life unleashes a virus which turns its hosts into immortal vampirical creatures who have a taste for human blood. Skipping forward one hundred years and following the adventures of a surviving human colony we learn that the original twelve research subjects are connected to a family of the virals (beings infected with the virus), and that the way to destroy them is by killing the head of the family. However these original Twelve are also extremely powerful – capable of telepathy which they can use to influence humans. These ‘Twelve’ lend their name to the second book and are central to its plot.

The beginning of this novel briefly revisits two of the characters from The Passage, Alicia and Amy – both of whom are infected with the virus but haven’t turned into virals. Amy has a mental connection with the virals and seemingly immortal is now working in a nunnery – raising the children of those who have survived. Alicia was infected at the end of the last book the effects of which made her keenly tuned to the activities of the virals, as well as gain their strength and speed; she uses these powers to track them down and kill them. The novel then skips backwards to the outbreak of the plague and we discover some other survivors’ stories.  There is Danny, an autistic bus-driver – who unsure of what to do after the milk for his Lucky Charms runs out decides to return to a routine he knows and feels confident with – driving the school bus route. He picks up some other survivors and the narrative follows them as they ultimately end up at a military refugee camp.  We then meet Lawrence Grey –who was a janitor at the original research facility – who is disorientated when he wakes up at a motel looking significantly more youthful and attractive.  Whilst looking for supplies he is accosted by Lila, a pregnant woman who is acting like nothing unusual is happening despite the downfall of society around her. We suspect this is so she doesn’t have to deal with reality. She persuades Grey to help her paint a nursery for the baby and they become friends. However Grey is being tracked by the military – lead by Guilder, who has learnt that he has a degenerative disease and is willing to do anything to stay alive. When Lila and Grey are captured they are taken to the same military camp as the other survivors.

This section of the book was really captivating; it was interesting to have lots of different survivor’s stories happening at once and then all tying together at the military camp. There was a lot of subtle humour, as well as intimate moments in this section which as a reader made me really empathise with some characters. However, just as in the first book Cronin is leading us towards a massive plot twist. The military “refugee” camp is actually being used by the military as human bait for an army of virals who are approaching. Some of the characters escape, whereas others are killed when the military bomb the camp.

Time then advances in lurches until the story continues from the first novel (so roughly 100 years later). Alicia discovers a city policed by Guilder and “Red Eyes”. Guilder has discovered that consuming viral’s blood results in immortality, so keeps Grey chained up as a food supply for himself and his army.  He also keeps Lila fed with the blood of Grey; she still exists in a delusional state – spending her days locked up in a luxurious apartment she pretends that nothing has changed, having lost the baby she was carrying Guilder provides her with a constant stream of children to mother until she tires of them. Lila also proves to have an almost motherly control over the virals, who behave like favoured pets towards her – something which Guilder uses to his advantage. A whole city of people are kept underneath Guilder’s power; he views them as mechanisms to keep the city running and as disposable fodder for himself and his virals. After Alicia’s discovery of the city, an insurgent faction who identify themselves with “Sergio” as well as the team from the last novel work together to strike at the heart of Guilder’s structure.

I apologise – that was a frightfully long synopsis! However I feel like it was necessary, it isn’t one of those texts where you can provide a short summary without being extremely vague. And this is why I ended up reading it twice. The first time around, whilst I loved the new characters introduced – I felt really out of sync; I even mentioned it to a couple of people whilst reading it that I felt so confused because I was missing the characters from the first novel. I’m not sure if this tainted the rest of the book for me. However the second read through I approached with a more open mind and whilst it was a good read (Cronin sure does know how to get you emotionally invested with characters) I think that the structure aped the first book too closely. Also I found the second half confusing even after two reads. Break the book up into small sections, or take each chapter as it stands and they are good. Really bloody dark as well – which I love! However as a whole, for me, this book wasn’t as enjoyable as The Passage – but I will still be reading the final part of the trilogy!

Have any of you read Justin Cronin’s books? What do you think of them and do you have a favourite? As always I would love to hear your opinions!

Becqui

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Book Review: The Passage – Justin Cronin

The Passage – Justin Cronin

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Let’s start this with an apology. I’m super sorry guys but this is gonna be chock-a-block full of spoilers. If you don’t want to know what happens then close your eyes now! I normally try to steer clear of ruining books for people, but I just loved this one so so much I want to tell you all about the parts that interested me. And if you have read it then please speak up – I really want to discuss it with someone!

Vampirical apocalypse is what this novel is billed as, and right from the start you are know something catastrophic is going to happen. The opening section follows two stories; one of which is Amy’s, a young girl who has been abandoned with nuns by her mother. The second story is that of FBI Agent Wolgast who is in charge of collecting death row prisoners who have been given the option to live out the rest of their lives in incarceration rather than lethal injection. These inmates are then used for experimentation by the government, who have discovered a virus – transmitted by vampire bats that can make humans disease-free and thus immortal. Wolgast doesn’t object to this task, until he discovers that he has to pick up a thirteenth subject – Amy.

There is a connection between Wolgast and Amy from the very beginning, he even tries to escape with her – but is foiled – and upon returning to the government faculty stays with her up until she receives the injection. When everything inevitably goes to shit and the test subjects break out Wolgast manages to run away with Amy under the cover of the calamitous events that unfold. Whilst the term vampire is never used, the test subjects gain super strength, are virtually immune to attack and have a prodigious appetite for human flesh.

For a while the book follows the story of Amy and Wolgast’s survival, whilst the virus spreads across America. They hole up in a cabin in the mountains making occasional trips out for supplies. Amy has contracted some aspects of the virus, she does not age and is sensitive to light – however the destructive elements are not evident. This is where I thought the story would continue, with their survival and adaptation to the new world. However Justin Cronin brutally kills off Wolgast in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. I was not this massive twist, Wolgast is a brave extremely likeable character and it honestly threw me as to how the book would continue.

The following section picks up the story 92 years later; following a band of survivors who have formed a Colony surrounded by massive lights that burn all night thus protecting the survivors from the “virals” as they are dubbed. This section feels like a whole new novel, the virals are the only continuation until Amy shows up at the colony’s gates. Her arrival is the beginning of unrest throughout the colony. We learn that the batteries powering the lights are beginning to fail. People begin having strange dreams, leading to a chain of events in which the lights are turned off. There is a devastating viral attack which results in the death of a prominent figure in the Colony. A combination of these factors and increasing friction within the Colony force several members to leave along with Amy to seek out a radio signal which they believe to be from other survivors.

Ok, that’s it I won’t spoil any more of the plot; I will only say that it gets even stranger from there on in. A lot happens in this book, there are heaps of characters as well as many little side spinoffs and interactions that later have significant impact. Despite this it is a really great storyline; you can’t help but be drawn into the intrigue surrounding the virals. Cronin manages to depict a creature far more interesting and  than your regular zombie or vampire, these creatures have some degree of physic power being able to manipulate humans’ dreams and thoughts to weaken their defences. I found parts of this book really scary, something I haven’t experienced reading anything for a long long time. So if you like being terrified then this is one for you! I would recommend it to anyone who likes horror, dystopian novels and a good long book to get their teeth into. It is the first part of a trilogy so I expect a lot from the next installation (which I have already ordered!! Have any of you read The Passage? Who loved it as much as I did?