The Twelve by Justin Cronin. Ballentine Books, New York, 2012.
It may seem odd to some for me to be reviewing this book a day after I reviewed the devotional Hearing God by Dallas Willard. After all, if you are familiar with the first book in this series, The Passage, you might have the idea that Justin Cronin is writing horror here. But I would disagree.
While The Passage has its share of gore, and The Twelve is not too far behind, I would hesitate to classify either of them as horror, just as I would hesitate to classify Stephen King’s dystopian masterpiece The Stand as horror. I would classify all three books as books about the apocalypse. And whatever form that apocalypse may take, in the end these stories are really about how people deal with that event.
In fact, just as in The Stand, there is a lot of spiritual imagery in these two books (and to my joy I discovered that a third book is planned). Of course, there is a lot of reference to blood, and how blood can bring eternal life. There is a lot of personal sacrifice by the protagonists. And of course, there are the twelve.
To understand any more, you have to know the story from the beginning. A corporation working for the Department of Defense sends an expedition to Peru to bring back a virus from ruins there. In a sense, it is a vampire virus. Their desire is to turn this virus into something that will grant eternal life. As guinea pigs, they bring 12 death row inmates into a laboratory in Colorado and begin experimenting with variations of the virus. Of course, the 12 men escape, which really starts the story off. And from there, the virus spreads across the United States.
In addition to the 12, a young girl named Amy is exposed to the virus. She is protected by two FBI agents through most of the first book. Amy, and two a lesser degree one of the agents, continue to play a part in both books, and I would suspect the third as well.
Cronin doesn’t start Book 2 (The Twelve) exactly where the first book leaves off. Instead, he backs up and introduces characters who are there when the virus hits Denver. And then it leaps forward about 80 years. At first, it seems like there is a disconnect between what happens in different sections of the book, but Cronin is enough of a master storyteller to pull it all off. He has a long list of characters that he juggles through the telling, and in the back of this book he includes a Dramatis Personae to help you keep them straight. As I got closer to the end of the story, I found myself visiting the character list in the back more and more. But everything fits, and there are no continuity problems.
Like I said, I am not a regular reader of horror, but I do consider The Stand one of the best books I have ever read. And this book–excuse me, these books–are pretty close to the top as well.