Trilogy's 2d book is epic and complex

From the book jacket The Twelve,
From the book jacket The Twelve, (2d in "Passage" series.)
Posted: November 01, 2012

By Justin Cronin

Ballantine Books. 568 pp. $28

Reviewed by Carole E. Barrowman
In Justin Cronin's bestseller The Passage, plagues of vampires swarmed the earth, forming the "Twelve Viral Tribes" who laid "waste to every living thing," except for pockets of survivors, and Amy, "a child to stand against them."

In a review last year of The Passage I suggested the novel was a creation story - a poetic postapocalyptic tale, part supernatural thriller, and part philosophical meditation on the nature of humanity. If The Passage is the planned trilogy's Genesis, then this second book, The Twelve, is its Exodus, a complex narrative of flight and forgiveness, of great suffering and staggering loss, of terrible betrayals and incredible hope.

While The Passage sets its philosophy, allegory, and fictional artifice on the backbone of a terrific bloodcurdling thriller, in The Twelve the novel's overall suspense is hobbled by too many time jumps and too many characters.

However, Cronin is a prophetic and passionate writer, and The Twelve is an undeniable and compelling epic, presenting a world of "emotional incontinence" where "the drive to kill" has become our nature, where "humanity [is] dissolving and taking its stories with it." Time in this novel is distended, pulled apart and deliberately out of sync as Cronin boldly matches form and content.

Each jump in the narrative continues the stories of familiar characters from The Passage, but in this book shifting forward to their descendants or turning backward to their ancestors. Amy's story cuts into these beginnings, middles, and endings.

Like the twelve original virals, Amy, the trilogy's main character, is a being "out of time" - a kind of Miltonian rebel angel, cast out but not damned, or a Christ-like figure, fighting against the viral hordes as she's drawn toward the ultimate sacrifice she must make for humanity's sins.

Characters travel from the year Zero to 100 years after the virals (AV), from "Denver's Last Stand" to a violent, despotic Homeland ripe for revolution that satisfies its citizens' bloodlust with gladiator fights against caged "Dracs" (one of the most riveting sections).

And then there are busloads of new characters (I kept the author's list of "Dramatis Personae" near) that I felt diluted the suspense across the book as a whole because I didn't and couldn't care about them all.

Carole E. Barrowman's review appeared originally in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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