Book recommendation: The Twelve (and win!)

I've had to wait three long years for The Twelve - the sequel to Justin Cronin's post-apocalyptic vampire saga The Passage - to come out.

So when a review copy of The Twelve landed in my hot little hands weeks ago, I was so excited that I immediately cleared out my existing workload, turned the lights off and sat in bed reading with only a bedside lamp for company. I finished the entire 700-plus pages in close to one sitting. 

And now I have mixed feelings about the book. The Passage was, in a word, amazing. It was a daring piece of work for a previously "literary" author to embark upon.

Cronin had sold a couple of critically well-received, quiet novels before that - Mary and O'Neil and The Summer Guest - and was living the life of the "working writer" - not quite affording to give up the day job, but getting enough recognition to keep going with the whole novel writing lark - when he dreamed up the idea for The Passage. The rest, as they say, is history.

Until see, I adored The Passage. It was frightening, entertaining and visionary. The characters were the sort that got under your skin, grabbed on tight and didn't want to let go. It was a horror story that was also humanistic and kinda-sorta-a little bit literary at the same time, but without getting self-absorbed and wanky about it.

If you've read The Passage, you'll remember that it ends on an explosive cliffhanger. Hence why I've been on tenterhooks for the past three years. For some reason, Cronin decided not to pick up where he left off, and instead, after a quick detour where we check in on what's happened to Amy & the remaining Co - we're back at year zero, with a whole new cast of characters.

I'll be brutally honest here, which pains me, because I do think Cronin is a brilliant writer whom I admire very much, but I thought The Twelve should have started at about 250 pages in. The narrative is a little schizophrenic, especially at the beginning. There are some very good parts, but also plenty of places that frustratingly lead nowhere, which, in a heavily plot-ridden novel, could be a fatal mistake. If my copy of The Passage wasn't out on loan to someone, I would have gone back for cross-referencing, but that in itself is a right chore for the average reader.

The novel gets a lot better and back to form during the Lila Kyle (yes, she is related to one of the characters in The Passage) sections, mainly because Cronin gets to sink his teeth into what he really excels at - characterisation. He's the master of subtlety and complexity when it comes to layering his characters and making them human and believable.

The problem is that he hasn't employed this skill to enough effect in The Twelve. Many of his characters sound wooden, and poor Alicia has pretty much been turned into a caricature of her former self. I'm not sure if it's because he was under pressure from publishing deadlines - which is a shame, or possibly he just needed a more ruthless editor.

Still, I would take The Twelve over the insipid mouthwash of other vampire fiction out there. It's still a relatively scary ride and like I said, the good parts are really good. It's just a shame there's not more of those scenes. But hell, it's still good enough that I'm looking forward to the final book in this trilogy.

The Twelve comes out in stores in New Zealand on October 16.

* To celebrate the release of the book, I've got a Spookers prize pack to give away of 2x Superscare tickets - which allows you access to all the Spookers attractions plus a photo each, travel to Auckland excluded. Spookers is strictly R16 and is open Friday and Saturday nights only. To be in to win, just leave a comment to let us know what you thought about The Passage and if you're looking forward to reading The Twelve!

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