In 1812, Napoleon and his French forces are conquering everyone who stands in the path of their “enlightened” ways. For Russian espionage agent Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov and his comrades, this means going behind enemy lines and disrupting enemy movement. But four men can’t do it alone, so they enlist the help of twelve men they come to know as the Oprichniki, assassins who claim they can turn the battle back against the French. One by one, the four Russian spies slowly begin to realize the Oprichniki can more than back up their claims, so much so that it borders the realm of belief. One by one they come to realize that twelve mere men can’t do what these men do, and that only the voordalak are capable of being so cunning and vicious. With the realization that their childhood monsters are more than fairy tales, Aleksei and his friends find themselves fighting a battle on two fronts to not only save their homeland, but fighting pure evil as well.
TWELVE is the 2009 debut novel from Jasper Kent and is also the first book of what will become a quintet of books. The second book, Thirteen Years Later is also available. TWELVE is a book I had noticed at Barnes & Noble one day. Aas I shop by novelty, the cover caught my eye. After reading the book jacket I was curious, but wasn’t caught up enough to buy it. Later that night, I was scrolling through Kindle books on Amazon and found that TWELVE was available for digital download, had a good rating, and was cheaper than it would’ve been to buy in store. I couldn’t resist. It was the first ebook I’d pay for, the others being all free classics available from Amazon. After reading Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I found I was a fan of “alternate history” where things happened not quite as we are told. In this case, a quartet of Russian spies enlist the help of what they believe to just be twelve ordinary assassins, only to realize they are in fact voordalak, Vampires. If you’re about to complain about me “spoiling” the story, don’t. It’s something that’s said on the book jacket and in every review, synopsis or plot outline for the book. If you pick up the book expecting a classic tale of espionage in the 1800’s, you’ll be disappointed about halfway through. If you like a classic spy or war story and if you also like horror and science fiction, this book is a must read!
I immediately found myself enthralled with the characters, especially Aleksei. In my mind, they weren’t just characters in a story who were supposed to be friends and comrades in arms; they WERE these things for real. There were times when I would be reading and honestly feel like I was reading someone’s diary, except it had vampires in it. Everyone in the story is so well written, so real, even some of the smaller characters who disappear after a chapter or two winds up being memorable and sticking out in your mind. Kent’s writing style lends well to many of the action scenes, being detailed enough and paced well enough to allow them to play out visually in your mind like a movie. Many of the characters are described so well, by the end of the book you can probably visualize them just as well as the Kent did when he wrote them. As is the sign of many books I enjoy, It was something I didn’t want to put down, but at the same time I didn’t want it to end. I was only disappointed when it came to the fact that Thirteen Years Later isn’t available on Kindle yet and because I’m weird enough, I don’t want to own both stories in different mediums. Laugh if you want, you know you’d do the same too.
TWELVE is something I honestly didn’t expect to like so much. When I read the first two chapters, I was mildly interested and knew I’d see it through, but didn’t think I would wind up tearing through it so voraciously. Don’t let it deceive you. You may think to yourself, “1800s, vampires, Russians and Napoleon? Sounds kind of lame. How exciting could that be?” To answer your question, exciting enough that I finished it in a few days. For a book of this size and for the fact that I was trying not to finish it, that should say a lot. Whether you get it in hardcover, paperback or digital download, like I did, TWELVE is a book that any fan of horror will want to add to their collection.