The Twelve by Justin Cronin

The Twelve by Justin Cronin
The Twelve by Justin Cronin

The Twelve is a well-written action thriller, a good, solid novel. But it doesn’t hold a candle to The Passage, the first book in author Justin Cronin’s post-apocalyptic vampire series.

The Twelve suffers from the same “middle child syndrome” that plagues so may “Book 2s” in a trilogy series. It’s neither a beginning, nor an end. The Twelve also has to follow in The Passage’s deep literary footprints, which is no small task.

There are (too) many of books about zombies/vampires overrunning the planet. But The Passage turned the genre around by introducing a wholly original solution to the age-old “zombie apocalypse” problem. Amy, the young hero of The Passage, gives all the mindless monsters their memories and identities back before dispatching their souls to the afterlife. It’s a beautiful and compassionate moment at the climax of The Passage.

There are no such beautiful moments in The Twelve. There are a lot of terrorist acts by rebel insurgents. There is frequent refugee relocation. Lots of stuff blows up. The “good guys” gather in one part of the country while the “bad guys” gather in another—one of many nods to/rip-offs of Stephen King’s The Stand you’ll encounter in The Twelve.

The Twelve is to The Passage as Alien is to Aliens. Alien is the story of a monster stalking humanity. Aliens is about paramilitary planning and war. The Twelve is more of a military action tale than a supernatural thriller.

Cronin is great storyteller, and his lyrical prose paints vivid pictures. I hope he recaptures The Passage‘s literary magic in the last novel in this trilogy—The City of Mirrors—due next year.

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The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage by Justin Cronin
The Passage by Justin Cronin

Justin Cronin’s The Passage is an impressive work. The first book in a planned trilogy, The Passage reads like a series of short novels and novellas stitched together, creating a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

There are shades of the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises here. The Passage is a long, sprawling, character-driven novel. It’s got werewolf-like vampires in it (enjoy, Twihards!), and there’s a magical child at the heart of the story (Potter Fans rejoice!). There are also parallels to Max Brooks’ World War Z — portions of The Passage detail a military response to an exponentially expanding army of the undead.

The Passage takes us through the before, during, and after of a vampire apocalypse. The book begins with a Men In Blackstyle government agency gathering subjects for mysterious medical experiments. All of the subjects are death row inmates, except for a little girl named Amy. The test subjects are turned into something no longer human, and the long teeth and thirst for blood suggests there’s a vampire in the woodpile.

Cronin’s vampires — nicknamed virals, jumpers, and smokes — have more in common with killer bees and werewolves, than Count Dracula. The virals are feral killing machines, but they retain a remnant of their humanity. These monsters long to remember who they once were.

My favorite passage in The Passage is Cronin’s detached depiction of the fall of the United States. Amy spends the Fall of the Western World in a remote Oregon cabin with a protector / disciple / father figure named Wolgast. America crumbles out of frame, in the background, with Cronin dropping hints that fall as softly as the Oregon snow. (A three-month-old newspaper headline, “Chicago Falls!” … the flashbang and fallout of nuclear warheads exploding in the distance.)

Three hundred pages in, we meet the novel’s primary characters — a band of survivors embarking on an epic quest to return Amy to the Colorado lab that spawned her. Along the way there are many Mad Max-style battles with both human and virals. Life beyond Thunderdome isn’t easy, even though Amy is a pretty powerful good luck charm.

I won’t spoil the ending of The Passage. But I’ll say that Cronin comes up with one of the most creative and compassionate solutions to the zombie apocalypse ever imagined.

Cronin’s compelling characters tell a unique story. The Passage is a page-turner, and Cronin a masterful storyteller.

As much as I dislike series/trilogies (What ever happened to stand alone books? The Great American Novel isn’t part of a series, damnit!) The Passage has me hooked. I’m all in for its sequel, The Twelve. The end of the world was just the beginning!

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