Review: The Twelve by Justin Cronin (Book Two of The Passage Trilogy)

19 Nov

Hey everyone, hope this Monday has been treating you well so far. 🙂

I’m back with a review of Justin Cronin’s sequel to ‘The Passage’ (reviewed here); ‘The Twelve’ was one of the books that I was most looking forward to this year because of how powerful and brilliant ‘The Passage’ was.

Did it fulfil my expectations? Well, yes, and no.


Reading ‘The Passage’ was like opening a door into a new world, like seeing a particularly beautiful sunset for the first time, or seeing a massive storm cell, roiling and tumbling into place over a city – it was a ‘new thing’, a novel that balanced along the razor edge between beauty and brutality.

‘The Twelve’ is a set-up novel for the novel that will close the tale and the trilogy, a worthy sequel but a completely different kind of novel. So, in terms of continuing the tale and pushing the plot onwards (also expanding the world and introducing new characters, along with deepening characters we’ve already met), ‘The Twelve’ is an excellent novel.

It takes place five years after ‘The Passage’, and many of the characters we met in the trilogy-opener are back, and the plot definitely thickens. The first batch of chapters introduce us to ‘new’ characters – characters that we heard about in ‘The Passage’ and which we are now given a chance to get to know, and these new characters are introduced during the time that Brad Wolgast and Amy were escaping from the facility where Amy was imprisoned and experimented upon. So we get another glimpse of how civilization fell while the Virals began spreading.

One of these characters, Lila, has a very personal connection to Brad Wolgast, and I found myself so damned sorry for her – having gone through as much as she did before the Viral outbreak, Lila had much more to go through, and a bigger role to play. Justin gave us, in her, a person just wasn’t strong enough to face the continued onslaughts of pain and grief that hit her, but instead of just leaving her alone Justin takes us through her journey, even as it changes her beyond anything she’s known. I can’t help feeling that many people will sympathize with Lila, that many people would probably try to ‘escape’ as Lila did, should they be faced with the same emotional onslaught, and that’s what makes her resonate so powerfully, at least for me.

But, as Justin did in ‘The Passage’, he doesn’t give us just one memorable character, but populates the book with them. We also get to meet one of the Twelve, though this Viral isn’t anything like the monster Babcock from ‘The Passage’ – he’s a person who made mistakes, bad judgement calls, who hurt people and who *knows* this, and yet as his story unfolded I couldn’t help but cheer for him – I wanted him to win, to beat the odds, to live the life he had wanted to live but which he never could.
Another character that stood out for me was the leader of a ‘city’ which most of the main cast don’t even know exists – his journey was difficult to read, but entertaining and affecting, nonetheless.
Unfortunately, only two characters from ‘The Passage’ really stood out for me:
Amy herself, who is even more enigmatic in this novel than she was in ‘The Passage’;
and Alicia, who was bitten by a Viral in the closing stages of ‘The Passage’.
Amy really surprised me in The Twelve – I was expecting a messianic-type figure, someone who would be in a position of almost-uncontested authority just because of who and what she was, but Justin surprised me and took Amy in a direction that I never expected, showing her to have different -and in some cases- almost disturbing motivations and leaving her story with an ending, or at least, the ending of yet another beginning.
Alicia, more than any other character, embodied for me the struggle between humanity and the Virals – her journey was harrowing but also beautiful and I looked forward to every chapter she was in.
The rest of the group from ‘The Passage’ were great, but Amy and Alicia just stood out above them for me.
Plot-wise, The Twelve pushes the tale along magnificently, not only in terms of the kind of world the survivors are living in and *how* they go about surviving, but also in terms of how this survival affected them as individuals and groups. Also, Justin takes the Twelve in a direction that I also didn’t anticipate at all. Early on in the book the Virals (under the control of some -at least- of the Twelve) cause a hectic and truly memorable climax for some characters, and another huge climax occurs at the end of the novel – definitely not what I was expecting, and when a writer surprises me, I *dig* it.
Since all of the scenes are from the points of view of most of the novel’s central characters, the action is both brutal and personal – each character handles danger and the threat of death in a different way, from a different emotional perspective, another aspect of this novel which really impressed me. And ‘The Twelve’ is also a faster read than ‘The Passage’ – not because Book One was more boring, but I guess because of it’s focus – setting up the dominoes to knock them over later, which in turn sets the stage nicely for Book Three.
So, ‘The Twelve’ is not a rehashing of ‘The Passage’ – it’s a completely different book, not as ‘epic’, but it didn’t have to be, either. ‘The Passage’ was the door opening, and ‘The Twelve’ was the first step over the threshold. Beasts of an entirely different kind. It has terrifying moments, moments that made me laugh out loud, moments that tightened my throat and had be swallowing back tears, moments that made me punch my fist into the air, moments that had me thinking, once again, that Justin’s greatest gift is his ability to write wonderful, engaging and believable characters. Plenty of moments!
I entered this novel expecting the same epic journey that I got lost in when I read ‘The Passage’, and the fact that my expectations were dashed is no-one’s fault but my own. ‘The Twelve’ is a brilliant stepping stone, out of The Passage and into The City of Mirrors, and as such is another step along the path, not the *same* step. So, I’m glad that this novel didn’t measure up to my expectations. 🙂
It’s brilliant and beautiful and I seriously hope you read it!
9 / 10
For more information on The Passage Trilogy and Justin himself, check out Enter the Passage; to order your copies of The Twelve, click here for Amazon US, here for Amazon UK, and here if you’re in South Africa.
Until Wednesday,
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Posted by on November 19, 2012 in Reviews


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