By Rafael A. Hernandez
Vampires: a trend that has gained such momentum in contemporary literature that it is a crusade in itself to distinguish the good from the atrocious. Sadly, vampires rarely ever take on a form that is both consistent with classic precedents and fresh so that modern audiences can marvel at their monstrous innovation. Even if this should be done, the stories these creatures inhabit are passing details, met with little to no integrity. Such tales are far too easy to create and feed to the mollycoddled masses. But in Justin Cronin’s running apocalyptic series we find salvation in its narrative damnation. His sequel, The Twelve, is a testament to the developing conceptualization of modern monsters as it is prime example web-like of storytelling.
Staying true to is predecessor, The Passage, this new chapter starts by a series of era skips, giving readers insight to the pre-apocalyptic world they have already become familiar with. Characters are sophisticated and true to their condition while at the same time lay the groundwork for a legacy that is seen in the main story arc taking nearly 100 years later. The main players of this narrative are both characteristically sound and work as fathomable plot devices to the greater story. Though it is regrettable to see the sporadic saturation of characteristic significance. To look at it skeptically, The Twelve is a glorified family lineage with all its members scattered about only to conveniently find each other at the end of whatever trial they pursue. Cronin has a good eye for creating plausible reunions but even such plausibility comes into question after so many occasions.
It is ambitious to attempt such complexity in a series that would, on the surface, be very forthcoming. Vampires swarm North America, humanity is nearly decimated; end of story. The Twelve proves that events never come so simply nor do plans fall into place. Amongst the chaos of a vampiric apocalypse, lives are lived and philosophies are developed. Destiny, symmetry and coincidence are largely emphasized in every page whether to be rejected, renewed or affirmed by both the reader and the characters. Cronin’s choice to make these themes so prevalent are equally successful and faulted. On one end you see plots run parrallel to each other to finally intersect and convey a most satisfying zenith; whether by explanation or inference, the story comes full form. On the other end, the many plots become cumbersome and disproportioned. Pacing is quick and unrelenting, a plus for such an epic story, but it also restrains the reader from fully apprehending the events at hand. For a paragraph or two, one set of characters are walking through Houston, the next paragraph a different set of characters are infiltrating a saloon. This trend is an understandable narrative technique but is disorienting.
What The Twelve accomplishes so well with its story is its vast spectrum of characters. There are plenty of people to like and hate. The ethereal immortal heroine Amy is well developed and distant, much to the credit of her sporadic history. Peter Jaxon, the novel’s human protagonist embodies the bravery, sharpness and resolve much needed in such a bleak world. Though the novel is titled “The Twelve”, it is surprising that the twelve main virals (vampires) of the series are scarcely seen. Antagonism is found mainly in the character Horace Guilder, director of “The Homeland”, a slave city under the guise of refuge. Guilder is modeled as one of the greatest representations of manic immortality in literature. Both his human and vampiric states of mind clash in a melee of nonsensical notions, dry humor and volcanic outrages. The Twelve themselves are portrayed less as individual threats and more as one body of voracity; perhaps the intention.
The scope of this novel is somewhat smaller than its prequel but nonetheless compels itself despite its scale. Characters travel their fair share and endure arduous hardships but the quick pace leaves such details unemphasized. The journey seems less important, paling in comparison to the grueling finale of the novel. Fans of the last book will find themselves enjoying the quicker pace and reassuring aftermath but may think the story rushed and arbitrary at times. But with its superb array of characters and complex, albeit challenging, threads of stories, The Twelve is a satisfying continuation to an outstanding series.