Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Just so you know, I have never been a great fan of fantasy fiction. And I tend to steer clear of books about vampires – sorry, really not interested. But every so often along comes a book that you can't ignore.
Justin Cronin's novel, The Passage, was a huge hit a couple of years ago. In case you've forgotten, The Passage is a dystopian story where North America is almost annihilated by a disease that came about when some scientists tried to breed a super-soldier, but instead turned a bunch of death-row inmates into hugely powerful vampires.
I still wasn’t convinced it was a book for me, but suddenly, The Twelve was due to be published with glowing publicity, and I thought, oh help, I've some catching up to do. Then the characters were so engaging, the plot was riveting, and the world Cronin describes was so vivid, I couldn't put The Passage down.
And here I am, having just finished The Twelve - named for the very twelve vampires that evolved from that first fateful experiment. Most of the old gang is still there: Peter, now a soldier, is still driven to finish what he set out to do in the last book: see all of the twelve destroyed so that mankind can rebuild and live freely again. Comrade Alicia (Lish) is a fellow officer, while Amy – the girl who can save the world – is back in Kerrville, looking after children, including Peter’s nephew, at a convent. Michael the Circuit works as an oiler in Texas, and Sara is missing, presumed dead. The original crusade against the twelve seems to have hit a roadblock.
Meanwhile at the city of Homeland, humans in the form of ‘red-eyes’ defy old age and manage to survive without the fortress set-up of other settlements, living a luxury existence at the expense of slaves captured from outlying areas. What is their secret? And what really goes on in the basement of a building known as the Dome?
There is plenty to keep the reader avidly engrossed in The Twelve, which begins with a few back-stories from the first apocalypse. This gives the book both a compelling plot to keep things ticking along towards a grand showdown full of guns, explosions and dramatic tension, as well as providing a few more useful chunks in the trilogy jigsaw. Somehow in the next book we know there will be another nail-biting storyline, as well as a resolution that ties up all the loose-ends that have been left to maintain our curiosity.
Indeed, The Twelve is a very satisfying read. What carries it beyond your standard apocalyptic adventure yarn is the surety that Cronin can craft a world that lives and breathes in our imagination. There are the wonderful descriptions of an America littered with ghost-towns and the detritus of a lost civilization (ours). The characters are complex and interesting. Even the not-very-nice ones do what they do because of reasons we can identify with. Guilder, the dictator running the show in Homeland starts out just trying to stay alive, but look at the devastation he wreaks. And let’s be honest, how can any of us know how we would behave in an extreme situation like this one?