In anticipation of the final book in Justin Cronin’s The Passage trilogy, The City of Mirrors (May 24th), bookseller Sarah H. revisits the first two bestselling books.
The Twelve is an entirely different sort of book than The Passage. The Passage is part origin story, part post-apocalypse adventure thriller. Even though it is referenced as horror, I didn’t find it to be such. The Twelve, on the other hand, has earned the horror label (literary horror, but horror none-the-less). The tone of the second book in this series is much darker, the stories it tells much more gruesome. It does, however, retain the Cronin signature – that of delving deep into each character you are reading about. Like The Passage, this book is its characters.
*Warning: Slight Spoilers Ahead*
The first half of the book goes back in time to the beginning of the viral outbreak, this time telling us about a number of characters that were mentioned in The Passage, including Agent Wolgast’s wife Dr. Lila Kyle and escaped Project NOAH attendant Lawrence Grey, as well as a few new characters, namely Bernard Kittridge and a teenage survivor named April. If, after reading The Passage, you were frustrated about hearing so much about characters that didn’t presumably play much of a role in the story later on, The Twelve is your payoff. Dr. Lila Kyle and Lawrence Grey become hugely important. And the story about a bus load of survivors traversing the landscape in the post-infection world searching for safe harbor, is an excellent story within a story. It is here we learn much about what happened in the weeks following the outbreak, but it turns out mostly to be about the relationship between Bernard Kittridge and April. Their relationship takes on a larger meaning as we come to understand the parentage of a primary character (I won’t say which one).
Again the narrative jumps through time and we come to learn about the tragedy that defined General Voorhees, of the Texas Expeditionary forces, whom Peter Jaxon and Alicia Donadio join up with near the end of the previous book. Through this tragic tale Cronin weaves in new characters that become pivotal in the upcoming fight against “the twelve”. This weaving in of new and important characters is one of the ways in which Cronin has made this series so compelling and managed to retain the forward momentum of the narrative.
The second half of the book brings us up to date, telling the story once again from the perspectives of Peter, Alicia and Amy. It also introduces The Homeland, another city full of survivors, much like Kerrville, but run by a tyrant with his own agenda. This part of the novel becomes something of a supernatural Handmaid’s Tale, though the social commentary is eclipsed significantly by the plot. In the end, all roads lead to the Homeland, and all our characters end up here for the final showdown. If the resolution of The Twelve feels somewhat contrived, it’s worth noting that more questions have been raised in this book than answered. By the end it’s hard to know if it is young Amy or transformed Alicia who is going to be the crux of the final book, and we still have no idea about the enigmatic Zero, from whom The Twelve, including Amy, originated. And with the viral scourge being mostly eliminated, it leaves room for the third book to be as different from the first two as The Twelve is from The Passage.
It is at this point I’d like to issue a word of warning about the content of The Twelve. The subjects that comprise “the twelve”, and some of the employees of Project NOAH, the military project responsible for this whole mess, are criminals. Their backgrounds, primarily that of Lawrence Grey and Martinez (of the twelve the title refers to) go into some detail, including violent and disturbing histories of abuse (both perpetrated by them and upon them). The same can be said for a few others involved as well. Cronin has made these characters complex and not one dimensional. While they may be people that have done horrible things, the story portrays them as being that way due to many causes, and also portrays them as people not defined only by their crime. In other words, they are both criminals and human beings. These topics and the way they are written can be emotional triggers for some. I’m not a person that is offended easily, nor do I have triggers regarding the topics of sexual assault and physical abuse, and even I felt some discomfort while reading parts of this book (indeed, I think that was part of the point). Should you know you have a trigger of this nature you may wish to steer clear of this series entirely.
Stay tuned for my thoughts on the final book in the series, The City of Mirrors, due out in hardcover on May 24th.The City of Mirrors is available for pre-order now on the Book People webstore.
If you are a fan of The Passage series, you may also be interested in:
The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey
The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman