Wednesday, 15 July 2009

‘Twelve’ – Jasper Kent (Bantam Press)


For the past couple of years my resolution has been to work my way through all the books, on the pile, that have sat there unread. I think we all know how that one has worked out! I’m a like a magpie who’s continually attracted to the shiny books on the doorstep instead of the ones I should be reading... A lot of potentially very good books have fallen by the wayside in the meantime...
But no more! The plan is to now read the shiny new books and the older (but just as shiny) books on the pile at the same time. We’ll see how that one goes (‘Toll the Hounds’ is going to be my holiday book and I’m not going back to work until I’ve finished it)...
First up then is a book that has been sat on the pile since October last year; it’s one that I’ve been meaning to read and various glowing reports around the internet finally encouraged me to pick it up and give it a go. I had a couple of reservations but, on the whole, it was certainly a very good read indeed...

It’s 1812 and Captain Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov and his men are on the receiving end of Napoleon’s march into Russia. City after city has fallen and it looks like Moscow will be next... However, hope has taken new form in the shape of the Oprichniki; mercenaries from the Turkish border who claim that the twelve of them can turn the tide of the war. Their shows of extreme violence do the job but unnerve Danilov to the point where he feels that further investigation into the Oprichniki is needed. What Danilov is about to find will have him wondering if winning a war is worth the risks of introducing certain things onto the battle field...

‘Twelve’ has been on the shelves for a while now (and has been reviewed extensively elsewhere) so it’s not a huge spoiler to say that vampires make an appearance as the main villains in the book. Having felt like I’d overdosed on ‘urban fantasy style’ vampires it was certainly refreshing to see them in a Napoleonic War setting. I also loved the way that Kent deliberately understates their presence on the page, placing greater emphasis on their capabilities by keeping their more violent tendencies ‘off screen’ (for the most part) and only giving us the dying screams of French soldiers... Not only did this make for scenes that stayed with me for a long time afterwards (because I wasn’t entirely sure what had happened) but when we’re finally allowed to see the vampires in action it’s all the more hard hitting. The scene at the crossroads really made me jump!

The story itself is an intriguing blend of mystery, horror and historical fact. My history isn’t up to much these days, so I can’t really vouch for how well it is done here, but the horror and mystery elements were spot on as far as I was concerned. As I said, there were bits that made me jump and the mystery of the Oprichniki (and the mystery within the mystery) was paced in such a way that there was plenty to mull over without everything being revealed at once.

With all this good stuff going on it was a shame then that the book itself was so hard to get into. My perseverance paid off but it felt like a shame that I had to make that effort. Sometimes I feel that if a book is good then it shouldn’t be an effort to read...

It was the way in which Danilov’s character was handled that slowed the book down, considering that he is the main character perhaps a little more attention could have been paid to how he was used... Danilov is a character given to much introspection and this can work for the reader in that his introspection can flesh out both his background and that of the book itself. However, I was sometimes left wondering if certain introspective thoughts really hit the mark here. People’s thought’s can sometimes meander, and have nothing to do with the matters at hand, but I’m not sure if this is the right approach for a book where things need to be a lot tighter if they are to keep the reader’s interest. The concept underpinning the book kept me going but Danilov’s flights of fancy did their level best to derail me...

‘Twelve’ was a gripping read that could have been a lot more Kent didn’t come across as being prone to letting his characters go off on tangents and not stick to the matters at hand. There are more books to come in this series and I’m interested to see what happens next...

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading Twelve a little over a week ago and I must admit that when the voordalak were revealed to be vampires I groaned in disbelief. However, my dislike for horror stories, especially those with vampiric bloodsuckers, did not dilute the storyline. I wish that this was a standalone novel and not the first in a projected quartet as I felt this novel is a perfectly able standalone creation. Still, if I won a copy, or received a present, of the follow up I wouldn't turn my nose away from it - nor would I expose my neck. ;)

ediFanoB said...

I finished Twelve a few days ago and I liked it.
The interesting thing for me was that I couldn't identify myself with one of the characters. But I appreciated the meandering of Aleksei's thoughts which you disliked. Normally you don't find this in a novel like this.
I admit that the book has its own pace which you either like or dislike.
The military background is described well. The Oprichniki have been members of an organization called Oprichnina established by Tsar Ivan The Terrible.

Anyway I look forward to the next book of the Danilov Quintet. Will the Voordalak (vampires) appear again or will there be a new mystery....

Michael said...

I honestly don't know what to think about this book. It is quite well written, the atmosphere is great, and the Iuda character is awesome...but honestly, I did not care much for what happened, was never truly involved. Maybe it is as you said because the main character is not really engaging.Maybe it is because I like to have vampires amongst the heroes since they kick so much ass. Besides, Russia is always better when told by Russian authors...All in all a fairly good book which left me quite cold.