Review: The Twelve by Justin Cronin

October 9, 2013 Books, Reading, Reviews 3 ★★★

Review: The Twelve by Justin CroninThe Twelve by Justin Cronin
At the end of The Passage, the great viral plague had left a small group of survivors clinging to life amidst a world transformed into a nightmare. In the second volume of this epic trilogy, this same group of survivors, led by the mysterious, charismatic Amy, go on the attack, leading an insurrection against the virals: the first offensives of the Second Viral War.

To do this, they must infiltrate a dozen hives, each presided over by one of the original Twelve. Their secret weapon: Alicia, transformed at the end of book one into a half human, half viral—but whose side, in the end, is she really on?
Series: The Passage #2
Published by Random House on 16 October 2012
Genres: Apocalyptic, Horror, Post-Apocalyptic, Speculative Fiction
Pages: 568
Format: eBook
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Buy the Book at: Amazon
This book contains potentially triggering material. You can find details of potential triggers at the end of this review.

The Twelve isn’t quite as much of a grab-me-by-the-ears-and-force-me-to-read-it-in-one-sitting as The Passage was, but once I got past a bit of a slow start, I read most of the book quickly.

And I liked it, I did.  I just didn’t like it as much as I liked The Passage.

There will inevitably be spoilers for both books in this post, so beware if you haven’t read them yet.  I’ll try to avoid spoiling The Twelve as much as I can, though. :)

It’s… well, pretty much impossible to summarize this book.  It jumps back and forth through time and between characters in what feels like it’s literally a cast of thousands.  So I’m not going to bother with a summary.  I’m going to discuss the high points and the low points, most of which are kinda linked to each other.

The jumping back and forth through time thing: I was hopeful that The Twelve would discuss the dirty details of the apocalypse itself, and I was… kinda satisfied.  Cronin does introduce us to new characters who survived at ground zero and follows them through their attempt to escape to freedom, but the story itself is focused more on the people and not the big picture of America falling apart.  On one hand, I can appreciate that, but on the other… well, I like a good apocalyptic story, and I’d very much like to see more first-hand accounts of the major cities falling.  It’s not too difficult to work that into a more character-driven story, and unfortunately we didn’t see too much of it.

The cast of thousands thing: This usually frustrates me in books, and this was no different.  I felt like I should be taking notes so I could remember who Horace is when he suddenly pops back up, etc.  It’s not the most fun read for me when I can’t figure out what the significance is of that person’s name until I’m about forty pages into the part of the story that deals with them.  At the end of the book is a cast of characters, but I was reading an ebook and didn’t know about this until I actually got to the end.

It’s also kind of frustrating to get to the halfway point in the book, when I’d become attached to the cast of characters in the first half, and then suddenly be jerked away and taken decades into the future with a whole new group of people.  And then, not too much further into the book, we jump another few decades into the future, but at least this time we’re back with the characters from the Colony in the first book.

On one hand, it’s nice to see some of the people who lived through that first day, other than Amy, and it’s good to get back to Peter and Alicia, et al, but on the other, it’s hard to develop a strong attachment to anyone because you get pulled away from their stories so quickly.

A large chunk of the story takes place in a creepy dystopian city, and while I enjoyed the subversion going on behind the scenes, the leader of the city was a little over the top megalomaniacal.  I mean, I guess that’s to be expected when you’re a vampire with delusions of grandeur, but I kept expecting him to cackle madly and rub his hands together.  His end reminded me of Belloc in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and if you’ve read this, PLEASE tell me I’m not the only one to think that.

But the creepy dystopian city brings me to the biggest problem I had with the book: how the women are treated.  I absolutely loathe the use of rape as a plot device because it’s so rarely used effectively.  It’s become de rigueur to use rape as a way to take a strong female character down a notch or to give her more character development or as an excuse for her to claw her way back to strength, and I hate it.  And rape is unfortunately used as a method of control in the dystopian city, which makes sense on a logical level, but is something that I absolutely hate.  Alicia getting repeatedly raped made me angry; she has always been on her own level, someone strong and focused and able to shake off awful things, but to have her break under rape and abuse… it just really bothered me, and I wish that Cronin hadn’t chosen to use that plot device.

The other women tend to be focused heavily on motherhood, and I suppose in a culture where you don’t have birth control options, it makes sense, but it still made me feel like the women were obsessed with having children or reclaiming their lost motherhood in the case of Lila.  That’s not necessarily a negative, but I wasn’t exactly pleased that the one woman who wasn’t thinking of motherhood (Alicia) is raped and the other girl who wasn’t particularly sexualized (Amy) is magically turned into a woman through something that sounds like menstruation gone horribly wrong.

Reading this review, it sounds like I hated everything, and I really didn’t.  I did like the book, and I’m looking forward to reading the last book in the trilogy, but The Twelve wasn’t without its problems, and some of those problems were pretty big for me.  Your mileage may vary, though.

Kobo Inc.