Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Brave New Apocalypse: Justin Cronin's The Twelve

I just finished reading Justin Cronin’s relatively disappointing The Twelve, the sequel to his epic vampire novel The Passage (2010).  The last 50 (or, if I’m being generous maybe 100) pages were gripping page-turners, and the story as a whole is interesting and original—as these things go. But there were other issues I had with the book that made it difficult to love. I’ll get to those in a minute.

The Passage tells the story of a quasi-scientifically plausible vampire outbreak wherein all of America descends into a bleak vampire apocalypse. Cronin’s vampires are not the suave and seductive Draculas (in his later television and film iterations, anyway) or the Anne-Rice-or-True-Blood variety, nor are they brooding and conflicted Edwards from the Twilight series.  Surely the most frightening vampires to appear on paper, Cronin’s monsters exude near godly power coupled with the fiercest ferociousness of a ruthless predator.  They move with lightening speed, leap into the air with ease, manipulate weak human minds, hunger for human blood, amass armies of followers, and literally rip people to shreds. Covered in a nearly impenetrable armor, the red-eyed beasts are close to impossible to kill. And all the main vampires but patient Zero, a research scientist infected on a trip to Bolivia, are former death-row inmates. (The military has the brilliant idea to test the virus out on murderers and rapists. They escape.) Scary indeed.

I admit that The Passage wasn’t perfect either, but I would still highly recommend it. I loved the shear breadth of the story, the grandness of the tale (it’s almost 800 pages long).  I loved that two women (girls, actually) are the heroes of the story. In fact, Cronin has said that he wrote the novel with his daughter’s assistance; she inspired him to write a story about a girl saving the world. Even in 2013, we still don’t see badass or powerful or even interesting women as often as we should. And these girls are rich characters who are fully human, not some clichéd sex object-Lara-Croft knockoffs. Considering that the book has several characters, I thought Cronin did a good job fleshing them out, giving them back stories and individual identities. Also, on a plot level, the book certainly builds to an exciting climax and has lots of twists and turns along the way—and lots of exciting “oh-man, he-is-going-to-die!” scenes. But most of all, I loved the writing. Cronin’s The Passage is very literary in the best possible way; it has a beautiful poetry that as I recall was free from clichés and free from wordiness.

The small issue I had with The Passage was that it was really two books in one, and I never understood why they weren’t published separately. The first part describes the pre-vampire apocalypse, mostly following a young clairvoyant who holds telepathic powers named Amy, who is kidnapped by the government and infected with a new strain of the virus. She develops a loving relationship with what will become her father in the trilogy, an FBI agent named Brad Wolgast, the man who helped kidnap her. The book then suddenly shifts 93 years in the future and mostly focuses on a colony of survivors living in California. They have barricaded themselves from the vampires and fend off the beast nearly every night.

While I mostly enjoyed the story in The Twelve and Cronin certainly thought of interesting variations on the genre, the problems I had with it probably outweighed what I liked about it. It’s a bit shorter than the previous book (about pages), but Cronin introduces several more characters and spreads them fairly thin. I like what he did with the two main female characters but another character named Peter, who is much more interesting in the first, falls a bit flat here. The same can be said of several others. Cronin also annoyingly jumps around quite a bit, a couple of pages here, then there, then there, and so on. This structure made the book not only less fluid but it was also a bit manipulative at times. He was clearly trying to create some cliffhanger scenes and leave the reader on the lurch. Perhaps the most unforgivable sin, though, was the huge amount of cheesy clichés he employed throughout the book. The writing just seemed rushed and somewhat lazy to me.
Ridley Scott purchased the rights to The Passage a few years ago and Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) has just wrapped shooting. The film version is set for release later this year. It has potential to be an excellent film, but I wish HBO would have optioned it; it would make a better mini series.

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