From a distance of over a thousand years, The Third Global Conference on the North American Quarantine Period tries to make sense of an era of darkness, destruction and terror. Beginning with experiments conducted on humans, a blood-borne virus is unleashed, creating hordes of vampiric-zombie creatures. With super strength and an appetite for blood, the Virals were all connected through their thoughts and memories to the original 12 Virals, the people who were initially experimented on. However, the First Recorder in The Book of Twelves has written of a group of brave individuals who fought against the Virals, and both the mad men behind their creation and those who used them to gain power. With the writings of The First Recorder, Justin Cronin begins THE TWELVE, the much-anticipated second installment of The Passage Trilogy.
"THE TWELVE is tightly written, spanning much time and space, full of sympathetically drawn characters who are given almost insurmountable challenges. The elements of fantasy in this apocalyptic novel never overpower the story itself or the humanity of the characters."
After the battle against Babcock, which was the climax of THE PASSAGE, Amy and those who came from the First Colony were scattered. THE TWELVE picks up their story five years later but also goes back in time to Year Zero and Year 79. In Year Zero, as readers learned in the first book, Amy and Wolgast headed for safety in Oregon. Cities across the country became deserted as they were emptied of inhabitants either by Virals or as people fled to find refuge from them. Bernard Kittridge holed up in Denver until he, too, was driven out by the Virals. Soon he meets up with a school bus driver named Danny and his two passengers, April and younger brother Timothy. Together the four drive from place to place, picking up new passengers and trying to stay clear of the danger.
At the same time, Dr. Lila Kyle, who has seemingly lost touch with reality, meets up with Lawrence Grey, a pedophile who has a connection to Project Noah, the project that started it all. Even before it becomes apparent how all these characters are connected, they are compelling. Kittridge and April are immediately drawn to each other, and the result of their brief relationship will have important consequences. The relationship between Lila and Grey is even less likely, but it too helps move the action along in unexpected and fascinating ways.
In Year 79, a group of farmers and their families struggle to protect themselves and their community against the Virals and corrupt government forces. On a summer day, they are attacked in a new and mysterious way when a woman appears who seems to control the Virals. The lives of the Field Massacre survivors become focused on finding justice and fighting back, haunted by the family and friends they lost. And now, in Year 97, the next generation of survivors continue to confront the destruction of North American civilization, but the battle lines seem to have been re-drawn. As the action unfolds, Cronin connects the dots between characters and time periods, and the book races toward another epic showdown.
The violence in THE TWELVE is more sadistic and systematic than in THE PASSAGE, the conspiracies are just as complex, and the plot is more complicated, but there is a sense of hopefulness and even spiritually in the book as well. There are so many essential characters and Cronin moves quite a bit through different time periods, so the story can get a bit overwhelming though never totally confusing. It is a fast-paced yet detailed novel and is rarely predictable. The characters evolve in surprising ways, changing the connections between them, the ways the readers will understand them, and moving everything toward the conclusion of the series.
THE TWELVE is tightly written, spanning much time and space, full of sympathetically drawn characters who are given almost insurmountable challenges. The elements of fantasy in this apocalyptic novel never overpower the story itself or the humanity of the characters. It fills in lots of interesting background material that readers didn’t learn in THE PASSAGE. Although lacking some of the excitement and originality of its predecessor, it nevertheless is a fun and thrilling novel that seems to be more than just a bridge to the concluding volume of the trilogy.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on October 19, 2012