Tony's Reviews > Twelve

Twelve by Jasper Kent
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Mar 07, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: novels, speculative-fiction, setting-europe
Read in January, 2012

I'm always up for a little historical military fiction, especially if it's got an unusual twist to it -- such as the introduction of vampires. That said, I'm not really much of a vampire guy -- and I've found the latest wave of them to be far too attractive (I prefer my vampires to be more on the Nosferatu end of the spectrum than the True Blood end). So I was a little skeptical that mixing the world of Sharpe and Brigadier Gerard with dark legends would prove to be a satisfying genre mashup. Fortunately, the vampires in this book are based on those of Russian legend, and are vicious, evil creatures that don't disappoint.

The story takes place in 1812 and unfolds through the eyes of Captain Alexei Danilov, a Russian officer from St. Petersburg who has been seconded to the Intelligence Corps. He's part of a four-person team of officers tasked with causing havoc behind the French lines in an attempt to slow their advance on Moscow following Napoleon's victory at the Battle of Smolensk. One of his comrades suggests they employ some Wallachian mercenaries he had previously fought against the Turks with. These grim men are the titular twelve, and their odd behavior stirs Danilov's suspicion. But it's not until at least a third of the way into the story that he realizes what the reader has known all along, and his story shifts from fighting the French to fighting this invasive species of evil. Meanwhile, there's an extensive subplot involving his romance with a prostitute (she doesn't quite have a heart of gold, but she is an utterly romanticized type).

The story is not exactly fast-paced -- there's a lot of time spent following people traveling to and fro, and a lot of ink is spent on Danilov's navel-gazing as he contemplates various courses of action and struggles with his own sin. The writing is solid enough, and the battle and fight scenes are all very well done, I just wished for a little more urgency to the pacing at times. It probably didn't help that only one or two of the twelve vampires had much of a distinct personality. I was glad that the author doesn't shy away from killing off likable characters, and did an excellent job of making the vampires truly malevolent and evil. There's also a very nice twist toward the end that elevates the story in an interesting way.

Probably worth checking out if you like historical military fiction that sticks closely to the accepted version of events and then adds its own twist. Also worth reading as an alternative fictional view of Napoleon's invasion for those, like me, who waded through the entirety of War and Peace. The book is the first in a projected quintet featuring Danilov, and while I will probably seek out the sequel (Thirteen Years Later), it's going to have to improve a bit for me to invest my time in another three books beyond that!
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