Justin Cronin’s 2010 apocalyptic-vampire thriller, The Passage, debuted in the midst of the mass consumer love affair with the weird and supernatural. In the evolution of the vampire in pop culture, Anne Rice turned Bram Stoker’s blood-sucking villain into a romantic lead. Stephenie Meyer morphed Lestat into a high school heart-throb. Justin Cronin pulled the genre up and out of its romanticized and stagnating plateau to give the publishing world something more epic, more poignant, more … genuine.
The Passage was a runaway success, though it left readers wanting more and hungrier than a 100-year old viral. Two years later, Cronin completed The Twelve, a reference to the original twelve virals upon whom the government experimented with a life-prolonging virus discovered in the deep jungles of Bolivia.
In The Twelve, Cronin blends the new backstory of familiar characters with fresh storylines and characters to create a worthy successor to The Passage. The entirety of the story stands firmly on its own, and is independently fulfilling, however leaves enough lingering plot strands to entice readers to complete the trilogy with the finale, The City of Mirrors. It might be a little rough to pick this up without having read its predecessor, but Cronin addresses enough of the previous story to catch folks up.
Cronin excels in managing a series of interconnected storylines, however the root narrative follows Peter Jaxon and the altered Alicia Donadio hunting the original twelve infected whose blood now courses through the millions of virals across America. Amy is the ONE — singular in her ability as a child to process the virus in its intended capacity — she ages very slowly and hasn’t turned into a bestial viral.
Pockets of humanity have survived the viral outbreak, as was introduced at the end of The Passage. We learn quickly that not all of our heroes from the original band of weary and war-hardened survivors lasted much beyond the final pages.
Cronin maintains focus on the remaining survivors from the Colony, but he also rewinds his story to expose more of the events that occurred immediately following the viral breakout in Colorado. We meet Lila, the ex-wife of the wonderfully warm and complex Agent Wolgast. A nurse working in a Denver hospital, she’s spared in a viral attack which leaves her a broken and broken-hearted woman who’s never been able to get over the child she and Wolgast lost years before.
Another minor player from The Passage that’s reintroduced is Lawrence Grey, the janitor from Project NOAH who was responsible for feeding Babcock. Yes, Grey survives and becomes a familiar, still in touch with his humanity, but unable to fully dislodge the evil within.
Cronin furthers the development of this type of viral only briefly introduced in The Passage. More human than animal, the familiar is mentally connected to a specific member of The Twelve. Horace Guilder was involved on the government-side of the attempts to weaponize the Bolivian virus, and spares his own life through a transfusion of blood from Grey.
Cronin builds the narrative of the virus outbreak through numerous chapters that tighten into a series of satisfying short stories. Guilder’s tale forms a connective thread across the 100-year span of the novel, while some of the characters leave an emotional, rather than physical, impact on the future.
Cronin can’t seem to avoid certain melodrama and cliché, but his world is thoughtfully developed with characters who emotionally resonate. If you enjoyed The Passage, then The Twelve is a must-read.