The Twelve by Justin Cronin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I truly loved The Passage. I read the book then even listened to the unabridged audio version (which took months) and I enjoyed every bit of the story; even when it droned on with minute detail. Unfortunately I pretty much hated The Twelve. There is very, very, very little that connects the first and second books. Some of the main characters from the first book are revisited but the main plots have little to do with the main plots of the first book. Instead this reads almost like a prequel for half the book and then a sequel that takes a completely different route for the second half. I found the tone much darker, unforgiving and losses the brilliance of the themes of the first book. In fact I was so disappointed and sorry I’d read this. I can’t imagine I’ll continue with the series as it feels more self-indulgent than anything.
In The Twelve, there’s a brief summary of the events of the first book before jumping back to when the infection first hit. There are numerous side stories and new secondary characters introduced as the story slowly shows what they did. Why any of this is important is vastly debatable. Some of these characters end up having a link to the current group from the last book – Amy, Peter, Michael, Sarah, Alicia, Greer, Hollis, etc – but most are totally irrelevant. In fact the entire first half, including all the scenes with Lilah, are pretty unnecessary. It’s more for the sake of showing grief and how people coped with the end of the world. It doesn’t advance the plot from the first book at all and instead creates an entirely new set of characters to follow for a time before they all predictably die or simply disappear from the book.
Finally around the halfway mark, we’re reintroduced to Peter and the initial group. But they are all spread out and dealing with different problems. I didn’t have the same intimate knowledge and connection to them that I had after reading the first book. I didn’t really care as much after the extended beginning that didn’t connect to them very much. Additionally there is a sense of hunting the original twelve virals but it’s secondary at best and the main thrust of the second book is all about what humans can inflict on each other.
There is so much inhumane treatment and depressing violence that I had a hard time reading this at points. I’m not sure what the point of all that unnecessary degradation is, as it doesn’t really advance any particular plot of which there are several disconnected and separate plots. Instead it seems added as a way to shock and inject a kind of political commentary. The fact that it extends over such a lengthy period in the book also slows the pace, not only of the story itself but my interest in continuing. I definitely hit a point where I was trying just to finish it because I hated everyone in the book. One review I read compared this part of the book to The Handmaid’s Tale and I find that pretty apt. It’s similar in many ways but lacks the effective emotion and connection to really make a statement. Instead it’s more show and gore than layered conflict and emotion.
The writing shows some skill but it’s bloated beyond need. There are too many characters that have to be explored down to the last detail, regardless of the character’s importance in the scheme of the book or world, but at the same time these lengthy examinations don’t add depth and nuance to the actual people. Instead it feels like a endless parade of details that don’t actually develop the characters. The constant side plots also slow down any pace or groove. The story comes in fits and starts, making it seem like the author would write one section then randomly jump to another without any connection.
Overall I wouldn’t recommend The Twelve, though friends of mine didn’t dislike it as much as I did. I didn’t hate it entirely and I finished it, but I don’t think it stands up to the themes the first book brought up. The author clearly likes to write but the book feels self indulgent rather than a tightly paced and plotted effort. It feels closer to a stand alone than a sequel and I will likely skip the third book.