It’s time to be afraid again.
Posted February 16, 2011on:
Twelve, by Jasper Kent
Published in 2010
Where did I get it: Library, but plan to purchase a copy
I’ve been waiting a long time to read a book like this. A book that puts the horror back in supernatural myths. Although it’s somewhat spoiled on the back of the book, I won’t even tell you which supernatural myth I’m talking about, just know that it’s one you are supposed to be afraid of.
To risk sounding cliche, Jasper Kent’s writing is just damn good. Every sentence, every word moves the plot forward. There isn’t a slow moment in this book. Kent brings us to early 19th century Moscow, where the people are proud yet afraid of invasion. Talk of republic is in the air, along with the early snows of autumn.
Don’t know anything about Russia, 1812 or Napoleon? Don’t worry, the main character, Aleksei will walk you through everything you need to know. My historical education is so lacking as to be embarassing, and not once did I feel lost. Twelve takes place during a war, and Aleksei and his friends are soldiers, but this is not a war book.
As Napoleon’s Grande Armee marches towards Moscow, Dmitry offers to bring in some mercenaries to help with the effort. Aleksei, Dmitry, Maksim and their commanding officer Vadim aren’t on the front lines, per say, they are beyond the front lines. Their mission is to cross enemy lines and cause disruptions and problems for the invaders. In modern jargon I’m sure the French would call them terrorists.
Dmitry’s mercenary friends are thugs. One dozen quiet stone cold killer thugs who prefer to work at night, picking off French stragglers, causing true terror and rumors to fly. The Russian patriots nickname them the Oprichniki, after a historical group of Ivan The Terrible’s mercenaries who outlived their usefulness. At first, Aleksei is in awe of the Oprichniki’s fearlessness and ruthlessness, even after he witnesses how they work. But something is very wrong here. Very wrong times twelve.
Aleksei is about to find out there are things more dangerous and more familiar than the creatures from his grandmother’s stories.
What starts out as a mercenary story quickly turns into a cat and mouse game, with the cat and mouse roles switching as the sun rises and sets. Dmitry knows the truth from the beginnig, and Maksim quickly discovers it. One of them will die for it. Told from Aleksei’s point of view, we witness first his amazement, then his denial, followed by horror, mistrust, fear, and then hatred of the Oprichniki. In the cold Moscow winter, it is his hatred that keeps him alive.
The story then goes from Cat and Mouse to abject psychological horror. Who can Aleksei trust? his remaining living friends? his military contacts? his mistress Dominikiia? his wife Marfa? Oh, I didn’t mention that? Aleksei isn’t a knight in shining armor either. he pays for sex, betrays his friends, allows his countrymen die and is a total hypocrite. He might not be a saint, but Twelve is not one of those trendy grim nihilistic fantasies. Not by a long shot.
A moment regarding the relationship between Aleksei and the prostitute Dominikiia who becomes his mistress. Any day, she knows, Aleksei will leave her for his wife. Their conversations are the perfect vehicle to discuss avoidance of consequence, and the things one would do if consequences weren’t an issue. Again, I don’t want to spoil why these conversations are important, just be aware that they are.
If I had to voice one complaint, it would be that the end is wrapped up too quickly. By this point, Aleksei is physically and mentally exhausted, so I sympathize that he just wanted to finish it. Lucky for me there is a sequel. And it happens to be at home waiting for me.
And in case you missed it at the beginning of the review, this is a damn good book, filled with damn good writing. Somewhat quick ending aside, Twelve is a nail-biter of of a page turner of a bone-chilling psychological thriller. So what are you waiting for? go read it!