We apologize for the delay of this review. It somehow fell through the cracks, and no one is more upset about this than us. Why? Because TWELVE is an amazing, amazing novel. Jasper Kent, the author, has given us in the US (all you UK readers have known this forever) one of the best books of the year.
Call it Alternate History, Alternate Historical Fantasy, Fantasy, Horror or Alternate Historical Horror…it doesn’t really matter. All you need to do is read it and enjoy it for what it is:
TWELVE is set during Bonaparte’s invasion of Russia in 1812. That’s your historical context. The story itself follows Alexei Danilov, a spy for the Russian army, as he and his fellow spies attempt to disrupt Bonaparte’s incursion. The group of spies turn to a group of twelve mercenaries whom they call the Oprichniki to wage a covert and bloody war against the French. Obviously they have their own agenda, and Alexei has little trust for them.
The story is told in a first person narrative from Alexei’s PoV. The style of storytelling is immediately engaging and reminiscent both of a memoir and a translated work. This serves both to put readers in a Stoker state of mind as well as help the reader more easily buy-in to the story. Kent is quick to show the flaws of every character–something you readers know is extremely important to us. Alexei isn’t a white knight, and much of the novel revolves around his involvement with his mistress/prostitute.
The twist involving the Oprichniki is not a twist at all. It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that they are vampires–no this isn’t spoiling anything for you. Kent does an exceptional job at helping the reader suspend his/her disbelief, and helps the reader accept that it isn’t our discovery of the monsters that is important, but Alexei’s discovery. This element is handled extremely well, and we truly feel his growing horror as it plays out.
We love Kent’s use of description from Alexei and his team, to the Oprichniki, to Russia itself. The historical events are told without feeling like we are being kicked in the face by historical detail. Kent’s pacing is smooth the entire novel. The actions of the characters are believable.
But here is what this book does best. Towards the end of the novel, a point is made about how having ALL the information means you really have nothing. Having all the information means you have the lies as well, thus crippling your ability to discern what is true. Throughout the novel, Kent saturates the reader with differing opinions and takes on the transpiring events putting you in the exact same position of the narrator, Alexei. This was executed impeccably, and sets it above nearly every other novel we read during 2010.
A few nitpicks? Yeah we have them. Once it becomes clear to Alexei who/what the Oprichniki are, we couldn’t help but wonder why Alexei didn’t alter the way he hunted them. Also the dialogue grew a bit melodramatic at times. But that’s it.
The ending of the novel with its corresponding twist and final showdown is fantastic. It caused us to forgive and (nearly) forget the few issues we had. It is a deeply personal ending that perfectly fits the tone of the novel.
TWELVE is one of the better novels we have read in years. Characters in shades of gray mixed with well-described Russian history and darkly-violent Oprichniki…what more can anyone ask for? With the sequel, THIRTEEN YEARS LATER, coming out soon, now is a good time to grab your copy of this tremendous first novel.
Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: Very, very infrequent, but strong when it occurs.
Violence: Yep. Described perfectly and brutally.
Sex: Alexei has taken up with a prostitute. Noting is ever described in detail, but it is insinuated and mentioned very frequently.
Buy this whole freaking series! It is completely awesome!