Top positive review
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on 17 May 2010
Shelve this book next to Naomi Novik's "Temeraire" books -- a Napoleonic-era military adventure story with a fantasy twist.
In this case, it's the tale of a Russian squad in the middle of the Napoleonic wars, and their dealings with a band of suitably monstrous vampires. Jasper Kent's "Twelve" is a pleasant antidote to all the romantic-vampire garbage of the moment -- it's bloody, slow-moving but stately, and full of wonderfully creepy moments.
The year is 1812, and Russia is facing a French invasion. So to combat the French, an officer named Dmitry Fetyukovich enlists a special group to help them -- twelve Wallachians nicknamed the Oprichniki. But one of his comrades, Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov, isn't so sure that the Oprichniki are such a good thing. They're strange, savage, they leave no corpses behind, and they only venture out to kill at night. Yeah, you get one guess what they are.
But after the French overrun Moscow, Aleksei sees one of the Oprichniki feasting on a French soldier -- and realizes that they are voordalaki (vampires). Aleksei manages to kill a number of them through fire and splintered wood, and ends up staying in a city of refugees and wounded, along with his prostitute mistress Domnikiia. But he soon finds that the Oprichniki were not the only vampires, and that their survivors are spreading their foul influence.
Currently the vampire trend is to make them sexy, whiny and as menacing as a blob of cold oatmeal, so it's kind of refreshing that Jasper Kent stuck to the original bloodsucker mold. "Twelve" reads like a balanced mixture of "Dracula" and "War and Peace" -- a wintry, bleak story filled with battlefields, war-ravaged cities, spies and the occasional love affair. And, of course, VAMPIRES.
Kent's prose is slow and stately ("They have no life and they have no love. They have hunger"), with lots of Russian history mixed into the plot. But he also knows how to inject some moments of pure horror (the houses piled full of corpses!) and splatters the book with plenty of blood, vampiric attacks and quietly ghastly moments (when a spy is killed by the Oprichniki). The only problem: the narrative gets kinda slow at times.
But, his vampires are BRILLIANT. No emo prettyboys here -- these are unholy monsters with foul breath. Though Kent gives them moments of humanity, they're undeniably bad guys. And there's a cameo by a legendary bloodsucker at the beginning... nice.
The characters are a little on the hit-and-miss side, though. Aleksei is a pretty contradictory character, spending many pages reflecting on loyalty and duty while cheating on his wife with a pretty prostitute -- although he improves as he realizes the evil that he's fighting against. Far more fascinating are Maks and Dmitry, whose beliefs and morals serve as the pivot for a lot of the plot.
Despite some rough patches, Jasper Kent's "Twelve" is a haunting, bloodsoaked story, and a nice antidote to all the Twilighty stuff out there.