Every new vampire story absorbs and reconfigures the tradition, as Justin Cronin aptly demonstrates in The Twelve — the second installment to a vampire trilogy that began in 2010 with Cronin’s blockbuster novel The Passage. If that book was a bit twee at times, it was also smart, well crafted and entertaining. Fans will be happy to learn that The Twelve delivers much of the same vitality and vision. Like its predecessor, it is a strange new creature for the 21st century: the literary superthriller, driven at once by character and plot … Putting us back at Year Zero may feel slightly regressive in a sequel of this scope, but Kittridge’s ordeal nonetheless enthralls. Though there’s nothing here quite like the artful and plaintive first third of The Passage, these human relationships remain well developed and emotionally affecting.
So although I loved The Passage, the first book in Justin Cronin's vampire apocalypse trilogy, I opened the The Twelve hesitantly. Would he sustain our fascination or would the tale founder in a swamp of digressions and gore? The Twelve is even better than The Passage … At its heart, Cronin is writing a parable of damnation and redemption – a message emphasized by the story's host of Christian symbols. The weapon of choice against the virals, the crossbow, is called a ‘cross.’ And it is hardly coincidental that there are 12 tribes of vamps led by 12 hellish apostles, or that humanity's hope rests in a child. Cronin's apocalypse novels prove that good writers needn't stay mired in realism. And make no mistake. Cronin is a very good writer indeed.
The end of The Passage suggests that the sequel might continue that quest; it's here, but it's a long time coming. In fact, about 200 pages of The Twelve pass before Peter reappears. The narrative suffers from his absence, as well as from the lack of mission. The book's title implies that the 12 original vampires — all human test subjects plucked from Death Row (clearly a bad idea) — will be hunted down. Readers bringing that expectation to this book will be disappointed … The Passage created an addictive world, but in The Twelve, it's already familiar. What starts to show through, in the slower parts, are weak characterizations. The main figures carried over from the first book, including fierce Alicia, mysterious Amy and tinkerer Michael, are still robust, but others are too often clichés.