01 November 2012

The Twelve, by Justin Cronin

This is the second in The Passage trilogy.

In The Passage, told mostly through emails and journal entries, the world was destroyed by a virus created in a government lab, injected into twelve death row inmates. Breaking free from confinement, these "virals" possess increased strength, power, and infinity, living off human blood. Within months, the world once known is no more. One hundred years later, the Colony survives in a self-imposed compound, protected by the lights that shine throughout night, shielding them from virals. When the batteries keeping the lights on die, the Colony must find another way to survive.

The Twelve picks up where The Passage left off from the first section, immediately following the aftermath in Year Zero. Moving from that year and progressing with certain sections throughout the next 100 years, the original Colony residents (Peter, Michael, Alicia, and Amy) return and the remaining humans in America have created small factions of government and military. Members of the Colony have immersed into the world, several lost. Finding the original group, led by Amy, a young girl who, while her blood is merged with the virus injected into her by the government lab 100 years prior, doesn't live off blood at all. The only indication that she is different is that it has taken her a century to grow from an adolescent to a young woman, but she also possesses a powerful internal way to communicate with the original Twelve virals, and their "Many." Through a violent journey that encompasses a wide range of villains from the original twelve virals, their Many, and from corrupted humans enslaving their own, The Twelve is another fierce installment in the trilogy.

My Thoughts.
First, let me say I read The Passage and I loved it. I couldn't put it down and read it in a few days. The initial jump from events following the aftermath to 100 years later with the Colony was a little jarring at first, but then I settled into it. One note I had from that reading was that I didn't like how Cronin would lead you into a spectacular event and then the section would end. The next page would be the results of that spectacular event, but he never allowed you to dig your heels into what was actually happening as it occurred. That was frustrating, and it happened often enough that I made a note of it, but all in all, it was an incredible story and world, and I loved every page of it.

I picked up The Twelve the day it was released. It was ON. I was ready to pick the amazing story back up and for the first one hundred or so pages, I was enjoying it. I thought.

You know that feeling you have when you pick up a random book because it sounds amazing and right away, you feel unsure, brushing off the disjointed storytelling because you're confident it will clear up soon? There's this nagging suspicion that maybe, the book is part of a series and you might be right in the middle of it? Yeah, you know what I'm talking about.

The problem is that I obviously knew this was the 2nd in a trilogy. I read the first one and I loved it. I knew the characters, I knew the story.

While I didn't mind that Cronin jumped right into Year Zero and introduced new characters following the aftermath of the virals' exposure to humans, I was disappointed. The Passage concluded with such intensity that I was ready to pick up from there, keeping consistent pace with tension-building and fear. Once I realized that just wasn't going to happen, I settled in with the characters and spent 150 pages with them and it was...interesting. It was decidedly slow, and there was just not a lot of suspense, at least not the way Cronin was so magnificent with building in The Passage, and so I spent the majority of my time fighting this horrible guilt, aware that I wasn't enjoying it. I was confused with the jump in timelines and I had this eerie and remote sense of detachment. It is a clear-cut lesson for me that if the time between installments in a series is more than two years, I simply need to re-read the one that came right before it. Or, at the very least, I need to hop onto Wikipedia and read the Cliff Notes version of the book to remind myself of events and characters. (Which I didn't think of until later.)

Yet even re-reading The Passage, I still would have waffled in confusion. There were too many new characters, and events which jumped all over the place. I spent the majority of my time drifting aimlessly and I even rushed through events in the end. I can't believe I did that.

There were just too many confusing elements, events, new characters that came and went, and timeline switches to be engaging. I missed the mostly epistolary format Cronin used in The Passage. With increased melodrama and shocking soap-opera like moments (Wait, that's really her father? And then someone else found their daughter?!), it just missed the mark for me. Don't get me wrong, I'll still pick up the final installment, but this post serves as a reminder for me to be more on guard. I missed the original universe, the feeling of being swept away into a story, the scary setup of the story, and most especially the refined method of storytelling Cronin previously implemented. This was just a little too scattered for me to really get into. I'm so disappointed to share that.

But, I have no idea what I'm talking about.
As I always say (er, write) in my posts, please remember that there is a reader for every book, and my opinion is simply my own. There are more than enough readers who loved this book. A simple check on Goodreads should give you more insight. After all, it currently has a 4.18 starred review rating, coming from 1,786 readers.

Favorite Characters.
  • Alicia. She rocked. Didn't understand the scenes where she was confined, or with Sod, though.
  • Ah, the disgusting Guilder. There was a lot of depth to the early introductions of his character and the reasons that clouded his judgement. While the concluding pages of his deterioration were a bit insane, I will recall fondly how villainous and interesting he was in the first half of the book.
  • Lila has gone cray-cray. Oh, Lila, you are nuts. But sheesh, you're funny even when it's horrifyingly sad and I think you're awesome.
  • Danny. I just love this guy. The determined bus driver who tries to drive everyone to safety. I want to be your friend. If they do end up making the movies for this trilogy, you doggone better be in it.
  • Peter and Michael. Equal parts goodness. Loved ya both.

Characters I didn't care about.
  • Amy. Sorry, I just wasn't as interested in her tale. Although I did feel the sad points in her interactions with Wolgast. Broke my heart.
  • Lore. I just thought she was a little over-sexed and it didn't seem genuine.

Comparisons to The Stand?
I felt bad for Cronin a couple years ago when readers began comparing The Passage trilogy to Stephen King's The Stand. When I first read The Passage in January 2011, I hadn't read King's epic tale, so I couldn't see it. This year, however, I did read The Stand, and yes, I can completely see why there were multiple comparisons. There really are a lot of similarities, and for a few excellent side-by-side references, head on over to Fizzy Thoughts' page. I would also add to her list that Lacey was essentially Mother Abagail from The Stand and that Farmstead in The Passage trilogy is Hemingford Home. If I were to continue to make comparisons, though, I would say that while Cronin has a gift for writing, I much prefer King's "plainspeak." There's just no fluffed up pretty way to spell out that it's a cold day, for example, so in King's world, it just is so damn cold it'll freeze your n1pples off. Know what I'm sayin'?

But, either way, The Twelve, while it didn't work for me, picked the story ball up and carried it for yet another game. I'm still committed to Justin Cronin's trilogy and I will eagerly await the final installment.

Publisher: Ballantine Books, an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group
Release Date: 10/16/12
Pages: 568

Others said:
A Bookish Way of Life
The Boston Bibliophile
Fizzy Thoughts
The Guilded Earlobe (audio review)

FTC Disclosure: I purchased this book from my local bookstore in Virginia Beach.

About the Author
Born in New England, Justin Cronin is the author of Mary and O'Neil, which won the Pen/Hemingway Award and the Stephen Crane Prize, and The Summer Guest.  Having earned his MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, Cronin is now a professor of English at Rice University and lives with his family in Houston, Texas.

Visit the author:

This is my final selection for Carl's RIP celebration. For other participants' reviews, please click here.


  1. I only scanned this because I haven't read The Passage but you have me sooo eager to get it and start so I can get to this one!

    1. Wow, sorry for the semi-nonsensical run on sentence!

  2. Too bad you didn't like it as much as The Passage! It's good to hear both the good and the bad about a popular book like this. :) I'm waiting until the third comes out before reading them, though.

  3. I'm sorry this didn't meet your expectation - I don't think the series is for me.

  4. Ah well, can't win them all! I'm interested that he was at the Iowa Writers Workshop. Some of my favourite writers seem to have been there. Must be an impressive program.

  5. Gah! Well, I am patiently waiting for the audio because no way in hell I'm going to actually READ a book this long. I think it is always the issue with an end-of-world story...it is all fun and games when the bad stuff is going down, but then it gets all messy, with the ambitious people and the re-establishment of government, blah blah. I even zoned out a bit when King did it. And certainly I zoned out when Cronin did it in The Passage. But I will listen to this. It just may not be an urgent need once the thing arrives...

  6. It will be a while before I can read this one -still need to read The Passage. Sorry this one had some downs along with the UPS :)

  7. I am in the middle of The Passage, and have this one to look forward to when I am done. I can't wait!! I will be back to read your review!

  8. So glad to read your review! It made me feel like I wasn't crazy for not loving THE TWELVE. And, you are so right about the THE STAND comparisons - I hadn't really thought about it until now. I loved THE STAND and recently watched the movie. Stephen King just knows how to say it like it is, doesn't he? Anyhow, with regards to THE TWELVE, I think my mistake was re-reading THE PASSAGE beforehand and expecting that same magic in the new book. I know I'm going to read the third book and I'm just hoping its an improvement from this one. Thanks for the honest review!

  9. You're not the only person I've heard say that The Twelve was disappointing. It's made me not want to read The Passage now! I hate having the second book in a series turn out disappointing.

  10. Hi there, the November edition of Books You Loved is now live. Here is the link Books You Loved November Edition Please do pop by and link in a post about a book you loved. Maybe this one? Cheers

  11. Does the title The Twelve have anything to do or a reference to the 12 apostles?

  12. With work as crazy as it has been, I decided to put this one down and save it for Thanksgiving week instead. I'll have lots of time to delve into it and that is really how I like to read his books. All at once. LOL.

  13. Hmmmm....I was wondering if I should reread The Passage before attempting The Twelve, and your review convinced me that I should. It will be interesting to see how this goes--I did love The Passage, but don't remember many of the details, just the broad story and that I couldn't put it down.

  14. I think I enjoyed the book more than you did, but i agree with a lot of your criticisms. I was bummed he circled back to Year Zero; I was ready to keep going from the end of the Passage but I tried to settle in, like you said, and found that I enjoyed the new characters. There are some problems with this book; it's not as polished as the first but it definitely kept me turning pages. That said, I'm looking forward to book 3 and that grand finale!

  15. What a disappointment! I'm also thinking about rereading The passage, or perhaps I'm going to wait untill the whole trilogy is written and read them straight.
    In any case, I'm Spanish and here The twelve is still not available in Spanish, and my English is not good enough to read it in English, so I have to wait anyway.

  16. I am in the middle of a really great post apocalyptic story myself, "The Gyre Mission: Journey to the *sshole of the World" by Edgar Swamp- pretty great story that really makes me love the current life I have now. Can't wait to check out "The Twelve."


  17. I've heard really mixed reviews of this one but still haven't read The Passage so at least I have that one to look forward to!

  18. I just finished reading this book and did enjoy it. Thanks to your review.