Thursday, October 25, 2012

REVIEW: The Twelve, by Justin Cronin

The Twelve, by Justin Cronin. Published 2012 by Ballantine Books. Literary fiction. Science fiction.

If you're like me and you read and loved The Passage, you probably already have The Twelve, and you've probably already started. If not, what are you waiting for?

If you haven't read The Passage yet, bookmark this review, head to the bookstore and read it. It's about a viral plague that lays waste to America and turns people into blood-sucking monsters, and the ways people cope with the remains of society hundreds of years later.

Okay, you're caught up?

Book Two of The Passage Trilogy picks up where Book One left off in terms of style and voice but not exactly in terms of plot. Instead, Cronin circles back to the beginning, Year Zero of the contagion, and brings to the foreground some characters who were mere extras in the first book. A man Passage readers saw briefly in a store, now known as internet phenom Last Stand Denver, takes on a crucial role in saving human society; and April, a teenager trying to save her brother, turns out to be a forebear of one of our most important characters. Bad guys come back. Lila, Wolgast's ex-wife, descends into deep delusion and mania, emerging as a chilling villain. Grey, a janitor presumed dead in The Passage, comes back as a monster.  But none of these characters can match Horace Guilder, a small man who discovers a way to be a very big man indeed, but at a horrifying cost.

Our old friends are back too- Peter, Michael, Alicia, Amy- and some new folks. After some warmup set in Year Zero and some in the near-past Texas,  it's full-on action in the present, divided between the society established in Texas and another in the midwest, in a place called the Homeland. The Homeland is a dark, brutal Orwellian dictatorship where "flatlanders" or ordinary people labor as slaves for the elite, or "red-eyes," who see themselves as God-like and omnipotent. Problem is, they're not, and the secret to their power is more than just the violence they inflict on the flatlanders. The so-called red-eyes are beholden to some very dark masters, and the day of reckoning is coming.

The Twelve is an incredibly detailed and incredibly gripping thrill-ride. Once you get started you will be turning the pages like crazy; like The Passage, I was reading it during TV commercials and pauses in conversation with my husband, because I didn't want to let a minute go by without finding out more. Cronin keeps the action moving, keeps the characters busy and moves the plot to a heart-pounding climax with everyone on stage. He punishes even our favorite characters with tortures physical and psychological and never loosens his grip on our attention. Everyone goes through huge changes in preparation for the final showdown of Book Three but, to my surprise, the book ends on an exhale of relief and readiness rather than the sucker-punch sigh of Book One. And once you finish The Twelve, you will be ready for that grand finale.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review.