My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I wasn't going to read this book. I wasn't! I felt like The Passage was a well-contained story and I didn't understand where else it could go. I will let the author explain what he focuses on in The Twelve, because I find it too difficult to summarize. (This is from an older post from 2010 on io9.com.)
The next two books each go back to Year Zero at the outset, to reset the story, and to deal with something you didn't see and didn't know was as important as it was. It's not a linear quest story, which I would find dull and plodding. With each book, you need to have the narrative terms reestablished with fresh elements. Also, if you didn't see [a character] die, they're not necessarily dead. There's a big cast in the first book, and plenty of unresolved stuff. I will resolve it by the end. [Early vampire character] Anthony Carter? No, not abandoning him.
In [The Twelve], you go back to what happened in Denver after the outbreak took place. The story will resume in that location a few days after breakout. So you can see another angle on what occurred and certain elements will affect our band of heroes 100 years in the future. It will be called The Twelve - and it's not who you think.
This means that the story starts with where Amy is, and follows up with an assortment of other characters. Just like in The Passage, storylines are dropped completely as others are followed. Since I was listening to the audio, it was a bit more difficult to keep track of, just because it was harder to flip back and get a refresher on names, etc.
The author provides a lot more information about what happened to various people at the very beginning, explaining how some of the communities were formed, the horrific actions of the USA government (including events like "The Field"), and other parts of the novel jump around up to 97 years from when the virus originally took hold. This kind of information is usually my favorite part of post-apocalyptic stories - the rebuilding. What kind of societies form? How do they work? Who has control? I think Justin Cronin shows a lot of creativity and variety in these situations, since it isn't just one story, but multiple. Many of the characters, locations, and situations overlap throughout the story, and I had this sense of the author as a puppeteer, drawing strings of stories around each other. Kudos to him that they never seem to tangle in disaster.
Scott Brick is the narrator for the audiobook of The Twelve, and does a fantastic job. He doesn't bother doing a lot of voices, but his inflection is perfect. He has this ability to get out of the way of the story that I really appreciate when I'm listening. It just comes to life and I'm not constantly thinking of HIM, but of the story.
And The Twelve requires a lot of thinking and paying attention. The multiple story lines, the jumping around in time and history, and the sprinkling of quotations that Cronin throws in kept my attention. He started with a Mark Strand poem, almost as if I needed something to clinch whether or not I'd read this book.
I won't have that dilemma for the final book. While this story has a satisfying climax, I was left with far more questions this time around. I'm not sure I know which side everyone is on. I'm not sure I even know what sides there are, anymore.
I can say that this book is hard to put down, even in audio I found myself making up reasons to listen. Luckily I had a long trip to Alabama and back that helped me knock out most of it. I'd recommend reading The Passage first, if you haven't.
A slightly longer review is posted over on SFF Audio, but it really just adds a publisher summary. You can find the author in Twitter. I thought it was funny that he lives in Houston, considering that there are several comments in the novel about how unlivable the city is. Ha!