Audiobook Review: The Twelve by Justin Cronin

15 10 2012

The Twelve (Book 2 of The Passage Trilogy) by Justin Cronin

Read by Scott Brick

Random House Audio

Length: 26 Hrs 24 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Twelve is a giant step in moving The Passage Trilogy forward to its eventual place as one of the top Post Apocalyptic series of all time. Cronin’s writing is hauntingly beautiful and his plotting precise, making The Twelve a novel that feels comfortable on anyone’s shelves. The worst part of The Twelve is knowing you have another lengthy wait until the final chapter is released.

Grade: A-

Two years ago, the hype machine introduced us to Justin Cronin and his novel, The Passage. As a long time book nut, rarely had I seen a book given so much press, almost to major motion picture level. I, of course, being human and easily manipulated by well produced press segments was quite intrigued. Justin Cronin, who before this, it seems was a mid level literary writer, has produced a masterpiece of post apocalyptic horror. People all over where comparing it to Stephen King’s The Stand and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which to me is like comparing anything edible to peanut butter and chocolate. Yet, it also made me a tad bit skeptical. As a huge Post Apocalyptic geek, every time there is a relatively popular novel in the genre released it is compared to either The Stand, or The Road, or both and almost never lived up to these comparisons. Yet, Stephen King himself had endorsed it as a great novel, even surprising Cronin on a morning show, praising him directly. So, I got swept up in the hype machine. The Passage was one of the few novels in the past 5 years or so that I purchased both as a hard copy and an audiobook. I spent over 40 hours in the midst of its story sometimes moved, sometimes horrified, and sometimes a bit annoyed, but always engaged. In no way was I disappointed by its rich use of language, its complex and rewarding plot and its wonderful characters. Yet, it wasn’t the same life changing experience I had with novels like The Stand and The Road. There are a lot of reasons for this, its focus, its jumping in time and mood, but mostly, because it wasn’t complete. The Passage may end up being one of the top tier Post Apocalyptic epics of all time, yet it entirely depends on the rest of the story. That is why the arrival of Book 2, The Twelve was one of the most anticipated novels of the year for me.

In The Passage, a government experiment goes wrong, releasing a group of 12 Death Row inmates changed into vampire like creatures into the world. Yet, along with these twelve, two others are released, The Zero, and Amy. As the world falls into chaos and The Twelve spread the vampire curse turning normal humans into viral monsters, Amy joins up with the last bastions of humanity to try to hunt down and bring an end to The Twelve. Once again, Cronin tells parallel stories, one taking place during the initial outbreak and the other in year 97 AV among many of the players introduced in The Passage. The early portions of this novel where simply amazing. From Cronin’s biblical opening, to his exploration of characters attempting to survive the virals as well as the government’s attempts to contain the outbreak, this was truly Post Apocalyptic fiction at its best. It was full of haunting images and disturbing situations, particularly in the tale of Survivors traveling on a bus driven by an autistic man across the country looking for a place of safety.  Cronin is one of the best writers at giving his prose a feeling of poetry, pulling out the beauty in the darkest situations. The latter third of the novel, where the character’s battles in a strange Vampire controlled city to take out The Twelve comes to a thrilling conclusion, was also quite strong. It’s the middle part of the novel that suffers just a bit. Cronin’s use of mysticism and his tying together of character’s past sometime stretched credulity, even though it was very well plotted. This is where Cronin’s poetic flair may have done his a bit of disservice, giving a dreamy quality that created a strange lull in the pacing. There are some wonderful scenes in this segment, particularly a tale of a massacre within a field, and Cronin sets up a lot that pays off later in the book, but the stylistic nature of his writing makes it just a bit of a slog to get through. Yet, when through, Cronin pulls off a wonderful, intricately plotted ending that completes the tale, while setting us up for the final chapter. The Twelve is a giant step in moving The Passage Trilogy forward to its eventual place as one of the top Post Apocalyptic series of all time. Cronin’s writing is hauntingly beautiful and his plotting precise, making The Twelve a novel that feels comfortable on anyone’s shelves. The worst part of The Twelve is knowing you have another lengthy wait until the final chapter is released.

I am a huge fan of Scott Brick’s work, but I have to admit, after listening to Brick’s performance of the over 36 hour long audiobook version of The Passage, I definitely had Brick fatigue. Brick has a very specific style that works well with Cronin’s writing. Brick is one of the better narrators at finding the poetic rhythms within straight prose and accentuating it in his reading. While this is often beautiful to listen to, it also can have an almost lullaby like feel. I sometimes find my self almost hypnotized by Brick’s style, and have to force myself to go back and relisten to a passage I may have missed. This fact, along with the way that The Passage ended, in an almost dreamlike sequence, had me needing to take a break from Brick’s reading for a few months. With The Twelve, there were moments, particularly during the more mystical stream of consciousness segments, that I felt lulled again by Brick’s voice, but for the most part, Brick’s reading had me fully engaged.  I have to say, the opening segment, with Brick reading a Biblical style recap of Book 1 was maybe one of the best individual audiobook segments I have ever listened to. I could do a whole book written in that style, being narrated by Brick. Upon completing The Twelve, I have no residual Brick fatigue, I could very easily grab another Brick narration right now. Brick is the perfect narrator for Cronin’s style, combining poetic stylings with crisp pacing and wonderful characterizations. Fans of The Passage will not be disappointed in The Twelve, and should be energized for the final chapter of this trilogy.

Note: Thanks to Random House Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review. The Twelve will be released Tuesday, October 16th.