Justin Cronin – he’s done it again…

I have to say, I wasn’t really wanting to read The Twelve the sequel to Cronin’s 2010 bestseller The Passage – although I really liked The Passage. It has been a long time since 2010 and since then various books/movies/TV shows (Walking Dead/Revolution anyone?) seem to have the subject – humans (in the USA/UK) do something they shoudn’t, most of them wake up zombies/vampires/monsters or without power, civilisation as we know it collapses (cue lots of cool nostalgia shots/descriptions of the now-ruined world that was, a lá the end of Planet of the Apes), a valiant band of humans (Goodies – we know because they are so conflicted about the hard decisons they have to make in this hard new world, trying to live by old world etiquette) set out to survive, and indeed fight against, the ravening hordes and the other humans (Baddies – not so conflicted, relishing the chance to dance with their not-so-inner control freak and trying to grab all the toys before they die: Not Good At Sharing) – under control.

I don’t even like the subject – it is not my go-to subject when looking for a good read but I had heard whispers about The Passage and I am so glad I listened hard. It was an incredible book, mesmerising and fascinating. I really liked how Cronin structured it: Various ‘historical’ documents are presented from a conference, in 1003 A.V (After Virus), about the North American Quarantine Period, Cronin then writes chapters that flesh out the story behind the documents. It starts with a few emails from a scientist in 20?? who has found something in the Amazon that bears investigation (can you hear the approaching Jaws music of doom).Then we are in what becomes known as Year Zero and 12 convicts are being given a dose of whatever was found in the Amazon. This results in the creation of vampirelike creatures who escape and eat anything with blood except for the various humans  who are ‘taken’ rather than eaten: less powerful but just as hungry versions of the original 12, linked, via a hive-like mind,  to whichever one bit them. Chaos ensued but Cronin doesn’t tell us much about it, there is mostly Before and After. There are more documents (I like knowing that years after the apocalyptic event someone, somewhere is still going to a conference) from a colony in California in 92 A.V, where finite resources are slowly but surely being consumed and people are trying to create a new society. Then it is revealed that there was a 13th subject, a young girl called Amy who is likely going to save the world…

I really liked all the practical details about working out how to try and survive  – especially when such devastating loss of people has also resulted in huge loss of knowledge and information – life might oddly be easier if this is the only world you have ever known, rather than mourning for a lost one. The Passage is a mix of action, tension and odd moments of almost spiritual contemplation about what it means to be human – and it is so well written. It is also one of those books that you either hate or love – one of the things I found interesting from a bookselling point of view was how many people liked it who didn’t read this type of novel usually. Cronin manages to create a story and characters that are original and more literary than you’d at first suspect.

So, The Twelve. It was so good! I wasn’t really expecting that, it is hard to write a sequel that is as satisfying as the first book in a series but that also moves the story on, where the characters grow and change. This book isn’t as big physically but I thought it was even bigger in terms of its exploration of the human character, resilience and creativity. It has the same sort of stucture, some of the documents are from 97 A.V – the young people from “The Passage” are scattered, older and battered, Amy is still as ageless and enigmatic as when she first appeared and there is a new focus – after the events at the end of The Passage there is a new determmination to hunt down & destroy the remaining orginal test subjects. There are also new characters including the truly repellent Horace Guilder who has created a dictatorship called the Homeland, although it is almost 100 years since Year Zero, he is as hale & hearty as he was then – his secret involves the mysterious, maddened Lila (who made me think of Ophelia if she’d grown up) and Lawrence Grey who worked in the facility that housed the 12 original test subjects.

The Twelve felt like a faster paced book than the previous one – the characters are still on a quest but they know what is it about, there appears to be little to surprise them – until the behaviour of the Virals starts to inexplicably change…

Now I am waiting for the third book in 2014, it will be really interesting to see what direction Cronin takes his juggernaut in next, and I won’t muck about umming & ahhing about whether to read it….This is something Cronin said about this series:

When I write a novel, my goal is to put absolutely everything I have into its pages, right down to the interesting thing that happened yesterday. I know I’m done when my mind feels as empty as a leaky bucket. So many influences, real and imagined, went into The Passage that I couldn’t list them if I tried. But one memory that stands out is the night my family and I tried to flee Houston in advance of hurricane Rita. Apparently, about a million other people had the same idea. After five hours on the road, we’d made it all of sixty miles. The highways were clogged with cars that had long since run out of gas; every minimart and gas station had been picked clean. I jumped the median and made it home in a little under an hour, my gas gauge floating just above ‘E’.

Rita missed Houston, slamming into a less-inhabited section of Texas and Louisiana coastline. But the experience of being in a large urban evacuation, with its feeling of barely-bottled panic, was one I’ll never forget, and is everywhere in the pages of The Passage.”

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