The Twelve: A Novel by Justin Cronin (New York: Ballantine Books, 2012. 608 pp)
Justin Cronin is the author of The Passage, The Twelve, Mary and O’Neil, and The Summer Guest. His work has earned him a PEN/Hemingway Award, a Stephen Crane Prize, Whiting Writer’s Award, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Houston, Texas with his family.
*Spoiler Alert for the Previous Books*
Let’s Talk Plot and Structure
Even though narratives can take many forms and stylistic flourishes, I tend to enjoy the prologue. This excerpt at the beginning of a story allows the author to set the stage and make statements about the overarching themes to come.
When I think of the most effective prologues, George R.R. Martin’s work comes to mind. In each of his world-building tomes, Martin uses his first chapter to build out the mythology of Westeros. The characters of his prologue often vanish after this preliminary chapter, but the narrative shapes the stories to come, allowing the reader to get a better sense of the story.
Likewise, many of the best television series use the cold open to similar ends. Breaking Bad might have been the best at this technique, weaving seemingly unrelated stories into the overall ethos of the series.
But, there’s a limit to the prologue. Too much exposition, and the following story gets lost.
Unfortunately, The Twelve suffers from Justin Cronin’s desire to build out his post-apocalyptic world through an extended prologue.
Too Much Prologue
The second installment of a trilogy, The Twelve illustrates the continued pursuit of the mega vampires from Cronin’s well-received original book, The Passage.
In The Twelve, we find our protagonists situated in the remnant of civilization, living in what was once Texas.
Amy has become a nun, taking care of orphans in the big city. Michael operates as a technician with the oil rig. Peter and Alicia enroll in the military and are hunting for the lairs of the original twelve vampires from the first book.
And yet, Cronin establishes the twists and turns of The Twelve through an extended—200 pages long—prologue. The key antagonist receives a detailed back story; minor characters have large sections outlining histories that drive current motivations. Consider this section, a short novella later, where the story finally links to a current character:
“Her name was April Donadio. The child that even now had taken root inside her would be a boy, Bernard. April would give him the last name Donadio, so that he might carry a piece of each of them in name; and across the years she spoke to the boy often of his father, the kind of man he was—how brave and kind and a little sad, too, and how, though their time together was brief, he had imparted to her the greatest gift, which was the courage to go on. That’s what love is, she told the boy, what love does. I hope someday you love somebody the way that I loved him” (166).
While I get the thematic desire to build this hellish world—speculative fiction always presents a fertile opportunity to expand the details—I couldn’t help but think that a 30-page prologue could’ve left more to the imagination and made The Twelve a better book.
Cronin dreams in nightmares and The Twelve is an entertaining read once the prologue concludes, but I can’t help but think that a shorter book might have made for an even better story.
Nevertheless, I plan to read the conclusion of the trilogy at some point next year.
Verdict: 3 out of 5