Tuesday, March 21, 2017

REVIEW | The Twelve by Justin Cronin

The Twelve by Justin Cronin
Publication Year: 2012
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Horror
Series: The Passage #2
Awards: None
Format: Audio (from Library)
Narrator: Scott Brick

WHY?: I enjoyed the first book in the series, The Passage, and wanted to know what was happening with those crazy kids from California.

SYNOPSIS:  Is there really any way to summarize this book coherently? Ahem. It's set about 5 years post book one, mostly. The gang from the first book are all split up.  Alicia and Peter joined the military at the settlement in Texas, Amy is living at a convent,  Michael's working on an oil rig, etc... Besides Peter and Alicia no one seems to still be pursuing what they learned about the Twelve in The Passage.  However, events are conspiring to get the gang back together again and engaged, whether they like it or not. There are even some surprise visitors from book one!  A lot of the action goes down in my state of residence (Iowa), which was ....exciting? terrifying?  

NOTE: SPOILERS AHOY!! There will certainly be spoilers for The Passage below and undoubtedly some for The Twelve as well.   Proceed with caution if you are Spoiler Phobic!

Justin Cronin has created such a crazy dystopian epic and in The Twelve he continued to surprise me with where he took the story.  This is most definitely a good thing and when he gets in a storytelling rhythm, it is impossible to put this book down.  By the end of this second installment I was hooked to move on to the finale, "The City of Mirrors". With all that said, The Twelve didn't entirely work for me and I was often pretty frustrated with it.  It had some of the same problems as The Passage but exacerbated, so I can't give it full marks.  

Part of the problem may be mine.  It took me a long while to get into this book and part of that was because I needed a study guide for The Passage.  He devotes a bunch of pages to expanding the backgrounds for minor characters from the first book which I didn't entirely remember and, with the gang from book one split up in this book, I lost some of my context clues for who is who and what happened with what.  I don't know how folks who were reading this series in real time managed but perhaps they don't have the memory equivalent of a gerbil like I have.  

However, while I am happy to own up to my memory deficiencies, part of the dragging effect of the first part of the book can be laid solely on how Cronin decided to move forward.  In many cases, he did not move forward, but introduces a whole slew of new characters and goes back to fill in more story from just after the outbreak of the virus.  It's not that it isn't mildly interesting and I appreciate getting some more details on how things got from the outbreak to the future explored in book one. However, part one of The Passage was my least favorite part and we get a WHOLE LOT more of that here.  It also stops the flow that had started by the end of The Passage.  The gang of characters I had gotten to know intimately were on the cusp of the next stage of their quest and all of that.... gets chucked to the side.  Seriously, some of the main characters from book one unceremoniously die in the 5 year period between books.  It is not until the original cast are semi-reunited and moving back toward the goal that was established in book one that this read started working for me.  That doesn't happen until the 60% mark or thereabouts.  

The book still gets 3.5 stars though because once you hit that spot and the narrative gets moving, it really is spectacular.  Every time I expected Cronin to zig, he zagged and he is great with developing his main cast. And honestly, the first part of the book is in no way bad.  He's a fabulous writer and incredibly good at setting a scene and developing a character, even if they are only meant to stick around for a chapter or two.  (It is dangerous to get too attached to any characters in these books!) I simply prefer when he stays focused on what I think of as the main cast and story line. It's like he can't decide whether he is writing a literary opus or a propulsive horror/thriller story.   Anyway, I'm nervous and hopeful  and curious about where things ended and will definitely be picking up the final book in the trilogy. 

Finally, AND THIS WILL GET SPOILERY, I had a bunch of questions.  So what's up with Wallgast still being around and why is he just now revealing himself to Amy?  I vaguely remember there may have been some ambiguity around his death scene so he could have been turned instead of dying of radiation I suppose?  And does Amy escort him to heaven or something?  Or is that just a dream?  And what's up with Amy. Cronin makes a big deal of aging her appropriately, hints strongly that her and Peter may be in love and then almost immediately turns her into a full on viral? And poor Peter.  Dude is a girl magnet but has only seemed to really return the feelings of two women...both of which turn into monsters who feel unworthy of him and therefore push him away.  Sheesh.  Or am I completely reading that wrong?  Why did he even bother aging Amy etc.. if he was just going to...Oh never mind, I'll read the next book.

I should also comment on the audio version of the book.  Scott Brick is the narrator and he is a hugely popular reader but I don't love him.  He does okay but there is something about how he reads that rubs me the wrong way.  And there was one tiny thing that drove me crazy.  The character of Alicia is often called "Leesh" or at least that's how he said it in book one and how I imagined it.  In this book he calls her "Lish" which may be how it's written but it's different than the first book and sounds way odd to my ears.  Does anybody know an Alicia that goes by "Lish"?  Perhaps I am just sheltered. 

FINAL VERDICT:  When the book is focused on it's main cast and quest story line, it is really amazing but it gets bogged down by a lot or extraneous characters and story tangents. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Other Opinions Are Available: Tor.com | The Bibliosanctum | The Book Smugglers

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