Monday, March 21, 2011

Twelve - Jasper Kent


 About the Book

The voordalak--creature of legend, the tales of which have terrified Russian children for generations. But for Captain Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov--a child of more enlightened times--it is a legend that has long been forgotten. Besides, in the autumn of 1812, he faces a more tangible enemy: the Grande Armee of Napoleon Bonaparte.

City after city has fallen to the advancing French, and it now seems that only a miracle will keep them from Moscow itself. In desperation, Aleksei and his comrades enlist the help of the Oprichniki--a group of twelve mercenaries from the furthest reaches of Christian Europe, who claim that they can turn the tide of the war. It seems an idle boast, but the Russians soon discover that the Oprichniki are indeed quite capable of fulfilling their promise ... and much more.

Unnerved by the fact that so few can accomplish so much, Aleksei remembers those childhood stories of the voordalak. And as he comes to understand the true, horrific nature of these twelve strangers, he wonders at the nightmare they've unleashed in their midst....

Full of historical detail, thrilling action, and heart-stopping supernatural moments, Twelve is storytelling at its most original and exciting.

480 pages – paperback
ISBN: 978-1-61614-241-4 
Published: September 14, 2010
Author’s Website
Publisher’s Website

Twelve was a review copy sent to me by the kind people at Pyr. I must apologize for taking SO LONG to get this review written and posted. Between cancer, pregnancy, my back and baby issues, my reviewing has been much slower than it normally would be. Thankfully, change is in the air.

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I have wanted to read Twelve for quite a while. There are a few reasons why this book appealed to me. First, awesome cover art. Second, I’m obsessed with learning about other cultures. I know next to nothing about Russia, and the fact this book takes place there appealed to me. Third, I was very interested to see how Kent would work vampires into his book without making them seem campy or out of place.

While vampire stories are becoming more and more popular these days, they are also becoming more and more tired. It seems like the shelves are filled with the same-old-same-old and very little fresh air is breathed into these creatures. That’s where Kent’s Twelve really makes an impact. Using the Napoleonic wars as a backdrop, Kent inserts vampires into Russian folklore and historical events seamlessly without letting the vampires smother the plot and setting. The unique setting (Really, how many of us know much about Russia?), and three-dimensional characterization mixed with the air of mystery that never quite abates, works wonders for these very tired-and-done creatures of the night.

Kent’s writing, however, is what really makes Twelve shine. As I mentioned above, I doubt very many average people know a whole lot about Russia. Kent really makes this foreign country and unique culture shine with his vibrant prose. In all honesty, Kent’s Russia was probably one of the most “real” settings I’ve had the honor to read about in quite some time. Kent didn’t need to weave lots of Russian words into his book to imbue the reader with a sense of Russia. He kept his writing on a level most would understand. The absent need to pick through and decipher tons of Russian words in the text was really refreshing. Kent probably realized that his well researched plot, and incredible world building was enough to imbue readers with a sense of his Russia, an addition of strange words to the text would have done away with his subtlety and, rather, hit readers over the head with a sense of “foreign.”

Characterization was also topnotch. The main protagonist, Aleksei Ivanonvich Danilov, tells his story in the first person. While many readers don’t generally enjoy books written in first person form, it works here. In fact, I can’t honestly see how the book would have survived if written any other way. Aleksei is an easy to understand character who leaves nothing to the imagination. He takes the reader on a journey through his likes, dislikes, passions and friendships. Not only that, but Aleksei divulges his conflicted feelings for his wife and family as well as the prostitute Domnikiia. By the time the book is over and done, the reader will most likely feel as though they have lived Aleksei’s life. The no-secrets attitude Kent has toward his protagonist is quite amazing. It’s rare that a reader has the opportunity to experience the life of a character who is so open and unencumbered by secrets and mystery. The result is an incredible three-dimensionality that really compliments the almost flawless world building, creating a well rounded, and surprisingly well fleshed out and human world that readers will automatically become attracted to.

However, despite the world building and characterization, if Kent hadn’t done his research the book would have ultimately failed. This is a historical novel, set in the Napoleonic Wars, at a time when France was invading Russia. Kent needed to write these events in such a way that history buffs, and those ignorant of these events (like myself) would both be duly impressed, and he did. It’s obvious that he did an incredible amount of research for Twelve, and it was that sense of, “hey, he really did his homework,” that I was specifically looking for when reading this book. The addition of vampires and hints of the fantastic is just a wonderful frosting on a delicious cake, but not the point on which the plot hinges. 

Now, any review would incomplete without some discussion of the plot. Twelve starts out somewhat slow and slightly tedious while Kent focuses on world building and setting the stage for future events. It doesn’t take long for the ball to get rolling, however, and readers will quickly feel sucked into the plot. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t some flaws to this work. At times the detailed happenings of Aleksei’s daily events became a little too tedious. This created some points where I didn’t feel as though plot progression and Aleksei’s personal events and thoughts were fully balanced.

All in all, Twelve was a book I enjoyed, while learning quite a bit from. Kent’s flawless world building blended with his three-dimensional characterization and fantastic prose really made Twelve shine. If the book does start out somewhat slow, the plot quickly picks up. Kent’s incredible Russia mixed with Aleksei’s relatable voice works well to insure that most readers will quickly find themselves absorbed in this work. If the plot doesn’t seem quite balanced, and, at times, does border on tedious, it’s incredibly easy to overlook. Twelve is a book that will sink its teeth into you and won’t let go until the last delectable page.

Twelve is the first book in The Danilov Quintet.

4.5/5 stars

2 comments:

  1. This sounds fantastic. I would love to read something so entrenched in Russian history. Gotta love something entertaining AND educational, right?

    Sara
    http://smreine.com/

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  2. I loved Twelve. I like my vampire stories to be scary and suspensful, none of this YA romantic crap. and as far as Scary and Suspenful, Twelve delivered!

    great review!

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