Opening in the near-present day, mere days after the vampire virus has spread from a government facility in Telluride, Colorado, the book focuses on a handful of swept-over survivors in the burning husk of Denver. One, a former Marine, sets up camp in a high-rise and uploads his viral kill videos to YouTube to the roar of millions of views. Others are high schoolers trapped in their homes after their parents disappear. Yet another is Lila, a traumatized wife who expects her well-to-do doctor husband to return home at any moment while she paints the nursery for her coming child. Cronin has no issue introducing these characters and then setting them into action, watching as their narratives entwine as they escape the mile high burg. On the east coast, the government is scrambling to contain the quickly-expanding threat of blood-thirsty man-bats, one that will envelop the entire continent in a few weeks. The action ramps to an exciting climax when, like its predecessor, it switches to a narrative taking place long after society has fallen.
It was a jarring transition in the first book and here it’s no better as you re-orient to new terms, an entirely new cast of characters, and an entirely new setting. You’ll need to keep track of Amy, the Girl From Nowhere and the series’ deus ex machina, Alicia the virally-infused super killer, Peter the Boy Scout and personality-free protagonist, and a chorus of others. There’s a reason these books are so long: Cronin spends a lot of time building casts and destroying them. I can’t hold that against him, the universe-building is fantastic and most of the characters are memorable, but it sure is jarring at times to keep track of who’s who. Needless to say, The Passage is a pre-requisite and I wish I’d given it a brush up before heading into The Twelve to pick up some of the many subtle hooks to that tome.
I kept flipping through page after page of this book, but it didn’t take long before I realized that it shares the same flaws as the original book. For one, The Passage trilogy has a mortality problem. Oh, sure, lots of people die in these books, but the breadwinners seem to bend fate to their whims. In the first book, it was a downer when a protagonist was taken away only to magically appear later in the book. It builds a distrust in the ultimate fate of these characters as what seemed like an epic sacrifice ended up as a minor inconvenience to that character to service the plot. When you knew that a character was going to be gone forever, like Amy’s desperate mother, it set off an emotional ping that resonated deep with me and built the characters’ humanity. Instead, characters from this book or the first pop up seemingly unscathed, or perhaps mostly scathed but quite operational, or perhaps quite dead, but quite operational, and it robs of the books’ realism and trustworthiness. It’s clever how Cronin weaves some of them in and out of the narrative, but ultimately you feel that the story is less as a result. Further, Cronin’s storytelling leads to a lot of rising action terminated, just like The Passage, in a flick-of-the-switch, multi-angle climax that doesn’t seem like the appropriate payout from nearly 600 pages of epic yarn. I could forgive these issues in The Passage, but I couldn’t get behind them in The Twelve, making me uneasy about The City of Mirrors – the final book of this trilogy due out in 2014.
Cronin’s writing makes me believe that he could probably write about almost anything and I’d devour it quickly (I’m tempted to pick his previous award-winning books in the adult contemporary genre just to see), but it can’t mask the structural issues here. In many ways, aside from heft, The Twelve is a lesser book than The Passage and while it seems like I’m ragging on it, the core story – one of insurgency – is immersive and entertaining. Unfortunately, it feels like this part of the bridge is sagging a bit.