This is a dual review of “Twelve” and "Thirteen Years Later" by Jasper Kent. Published in paperback by Bantam in the UK in February and April 2010, and Pyr SF in the US in September 2010 and February 2011. Amazon Canada has them listed for $15.85 & $15.64. Warning: This review may contain spoilers.
Before I start reviewing “Twelve” and "Thirteen Years Later" I have to go on a rant, a rant about books with serial killers. The success of "The Silence of the Lambs" has meant a huge number of books featuring serial killers. I find the popularity of serial killer characters unnerving and annoying. Unnerving, because this hero worship of insane killers, is well unnerving. And typically to make the killers more awful, the story indulges in the worst kind of torture-porn. Additionally, the Lecter-style serial killer isn't satisfied with the death of his victims, he has to play with their minds as well; causing them to make really bad decisions. Annoying, because once a book has a serial killer in it, it is filled with the worst kind of plotonium. Because now, serial killers are always portrayed as supernaturally clever and lucky. And if they aren't clever, then every "ordinary" character is dumbed down to compensate. The result is, that any time a serial killer enters a story huge plot holes follow.
Since I avoid books with serial killers, I was hugely surprised by how much I loved "Twelve”. Of course, I didn't realize that "Twelve” had a serial killer in it. I thought it was about vampires in Russia during the War of 1812. And it is, but to make the serial killer a vampire is a brilliant twist. Because it makes the supernatural serial killer, so much more plausible. The author is no longer in the position of trying to explain away how an ordinary human being has immense powers, we accept that this is part of vampire lore. What really grounds the fantastic elements of the story is the historical realism of the novel. In the scenes describing the sack of Moscow, I could practically smell the wooden buildings burning.
The book begins with our hero Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov seeing a group of specialized "mercenaries" being invited into Russia to help fight the armies of Napoleon. And while, the reader realizes very quickly (more so if they read the jacket copy) what these mercenaries are; Danilov takes a while to recognize and believe what he is seeing. But when he does, he begins a fight against a greater enemy.
The book is fast paced with a really unexpected plot twist, that by the time it arrived totally surprised me. The inevitably gruesome torture scene, actually advanced the plot, and our sympathy for our hero. All in all the book is a terrific read.
After enjoying “Twelve” so much, I plunged right into "Thirteen Years Later", it continues (not surprisingly), thirteen years after the end of the events in “Twelve”. Thirteen years later, our hero is a somewhat compromised character; morally, emotionally and physically. He's had time to reflect on what he has achieved in life. But the events in "Thirteen Years Later" continue at the same breakneck pace, although they are told from multiple perspectives. There is a mystery here (actually several) about the vampires and their goals. Once again, Danilov must protect his family and country from harm.
So there I was, racing along, reading as fast as I could, since I knew I was in good hands. Ready to find out what was going to happen next. When, and I can only describe this as the readers’ version of stepping on a garden rake and having it whap you on the nose; the author totally blew it.
If you recall my earlier rant about serial killers, one of my beefs is that to make the killer look smarter, the author dumbs down other characters, in this case, our hero Danilov. Danilov commits the classic offense of failing to kill the killer. He has him actually in his grasp, and releases him! Danilov has been portrayed as a brutally practical man, but all our serial killer has to do is play a little bit on his fears and guilt and blam! He gets a free pass to trot off and do more damage (including threatening Danilov's family). This is aggravating in the extreme. In fact, it annoyed me so much I put down the book and went off to do housework. And I haven't picked up "Thirteen Years Later" since.
To me, it shows how difficult it is for even a great writer like Kent to escape the tropes of a genre. In this case, the serial killer story trope, wherein the serial killer loves to play with people's minds, and the hero is helpless to stop him.
It should also show how invested I was in the story, that I took it all so personally.
“Twelve” and "Thirteen Years Later" are the first two books in the "Danilov" quintet of novels, the third book in the series "The Third Section" will be published later this year. And I have to admit, reading the promotional copy is almost enough to entice me back for another run at Thirteen.
“Twelve” stands on it's own as a terrific novel, please check it out. You'll have to decide how you feel about serial killers to take on "Thirteen Years Later".
So, please check out “Twelve” and maybe "Thirteen Years Later," recommended to you by WebGenii.
Twelve by Jasper Kent
Paperback: 447 pages
Publisher: Pyr (September 7, 2010)
Thirteen Years Later by Jasper Kent
Paperback: 511 pages
Publisher: Pyr (February 8, 2011)