4 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: The Twelve by Justin Cronin

Title: The Twelve

Author: Justin Cronin

Genre: Horror, (Post-)Apocalypse, Dystopia

Publisher: Random House (US) / Orion (UK)
Publication Date: October 2012
Hardcover: 568 Pages


At the end of The Passage, the great viral plague had left a small group of survivors clinging to life amidst a world transformed into a nightmare. In the second volume of this epic trilogy, this same group of survivors, led by the mysterious, charismatic Amy, go on the attack, leading an insurrection against the virals: the first offensives of the Second Viral War.

To do this, they must infiltrate a dozen hives, each presided over by one of the original Twelve. Their secret weapon: Alicia, transformed at the end of book one into a half human, half viral—but whose side, in the end, is she really on?

Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Passage trilogy

How did I get this book: Bought

Why did I read this book: I loved The Passage – hell, it was my favorite read of 2010. I have been waiting for this sequel for two years!

WARNING: This review contains spoilers.

Trigger warning: Rape


I’m going to preface this review by saying that I was so intensely excited for this book, having loved The Passage so very much.

Sometimes, expectations can be a bitch.

I always like to start off my reviews with a synopsis of the book – but in the case of The Twelve, I’m not even sure I can provide an accurate synopsis because the novel is so ridiculously scattered. But I will do my best:

The book begins with a lengthy Prologue written in a numbered, pseudo-biblical fashion (which caused the first tingling of unease in my mind):

1. For it came to pass that the world had grown wicked, and men had taken war into their hearts, and committed great defilements upon every living thing, so that the world was as a dream of death;
2. And God looked up on his creation with a great sadness, for his spirit no longer abided with mankind.
3. And the LORD said: As in the days of Noah, a great deluge shall sweep over the earth; and this shall be a deluge of blood. The monsters of men’s hearts shall be made flesh, devouring all in their path. And they shall be called Virals.

(This goes on for three chapters in the same pretentiously overblown and numbered fashion.) Following the prologue, The Twelve is split into 12 parts (called books), each containing their own separate chapters. In Book I, the story briefly jumps to the year 97 A.V. (After Virals) – which would theoretically be where we left off at the end of The Passage – but after just two quick chapters in the “present,” Book II commences, jumping all the way back to the days immediately following Project NOAH’s breach and the apocalyptic end of civilization (aka Year Zero). Here, we are introduced to a handful of disparate characters – an autistic bus driver, a lone gunman making a last stand in viral-overrun Denver, a delusional pregnant doctor named Lila Kyle suffering from serious post traumatic stress syndrome, and a reformed pedophile janitor named Lawrence Grey (who worked for NOAH), amongst many others. The majority of these characters disappear without a trace as Book II progresses, and though the disparate group comes together (sort of) by this particular section’s end, most of these characters serve no other purpose in the actual plot at large.

Then in Book III, the narrative jumps to 79 A.V. – still not back to our core group of characters from The Passage! – and details a massacre in a field, when a group of survivors made the catastrophically stupid mistake of going outside of the colony’s safe walls to have a summer picnic with their children (come on, people – really?). Only at Book IV – some 250 pages into The Twelve – we finally move back to the story proper in 97 A.V., picking up with the familiar characters we got to know in The Passage and continuing with their journey to find and kill the remaining eleven “boss” virals, the original test subjects of Project NOAH. Except…we quickly learn that Peter, Alicia and company haven’t had any successes. The Eleven have wizened up to the Expeditionary’s scheme, and have taken an entirely new tack.

Then the book jumps to a completely new city, where a Very Bad Man – Horace Guilder, Deputy Director of Project NOAH (aka, the guy who decided to weaponize vampirism and screwed the pooch) – rules as dictator under the sinister moniker of “the Director.”1 This new city in Iowa, Homeland, captures people from other colonies, indiscriminately raping and killing anyone in their path. Oh, and Horace the Director and his cronies, the so called “red eyes”? They are a whole new kind of viral-human crossbreed in cahoots with the Twelve – I mean, the Eleven.2

I’ll stop there. Needless to say, the main thrust of The Twelve is hard to describe in a coherent way because the book is literally all over the place. Exacerbating the structural issues and outlandishly excessive page count (the first 300 pages could have been pared down significantly) is the bizarre pseudo-spiritual/religion/destiny thread running throughout. The pretentious prologue, unfortunately, is only the beginning – we are reacquainted with a character that Finds God, there is overall talk of God and Destiny; even Amy, the Girl from Nowhere herself, is reaching levels of decidedly religious martyrdom and magicalness. I’m not exactly sure what Cronin is aiming for with The Twelve – beyond the metaphysical, dreamspacy jumble, there are also clumsy and overt parallels drawn to the Holocaust (captives in Homeland are transported en masse in horrible conditions, sorted and separated, shorn and tattooed), and to insurgents that resort to suicide bombings and other attacks in defiance. While the allusions are obvious and potential fodder for deeper examination of humanity and human nature, The Twelve never really explores any deeper significance of these horrific extremes. Because of this, the allusions feel gratuitous, implemented for pure revulsion and shock value.

There’s also an odd hollowness to the characters this time around – instead of focusing on the monstrous characters of the original virals, the Twelve (that are now Eleven) and a supernatural threat like the terrifying Babcock, we are introduced to a decidedly one note villain in the figure of Horace Guilder (who is OF COURSE a man that never was loved by his father, that was incapable of relationships with women and was horribly embarrassed by the prostitute he fell in love with, and so on and so forth). Even the time we spend with characters that we do remember and love from The Passage – Peter, Alicia and Sara primarily – and the newer more compelling characters we meet along the way (Lila) is too little, and far too late.

And then there is something deeply, horribly problematic in the portrayal of female characters. In the latter portion of the book, Alicia – who you’ll remember is the strongest female member of the cast, both physically thanks to Amy’s blood, and in terms of her development as a character – is horrendously brutalized and raped. Why is it necessary for Alicia to be brutally tortured and raped? WHY is it necessary for there to be sanctioned, systematic rape of female characters? WHY? Needless to say, the amount of brutalization to which females in this dystopian society are subjected is deeply disturbing.

I can’t even begin to express my level of disappointment and frustration with The Twelve. If The Passage was a riff on Stephen King at his ‘Salem’s Lot meets The Stand best, The Twelve is like King at his most bloated and ridiculous (think…Dreamcatcher or The Regulators). This is a middle book, and it reads like so much filler – occasionally exciting and momentarily engaging, but so choppy, confused and littered with problems that ultimately none of it seems to matter. At this point, I won’t be sticking around for book 3.

Notable Quotes/Parts: From the official excerpt (that is, Book III, Chapter 4):

Bernard Kittridge, known to the world as “Last Stand in Denver,” realized it was time to leave the morning the power went out.

He wondered what had taken so long. You couldn’t keep a municipal electrical grid running without people to man it, and as far as Kittridge could tell from the nineteenth floor, not a single human soul was left alive in the city of Denver.

Which was not to say he was alone.

He had passed the early hours of the morning—a bright, clear morning in the first week of June, temperatures in the mid-seventies with a chance of blood-sucking monsters moving in toward dusk—sunning on the balcony of the penthouse he had occupied since the second week of the crisis. It was a gigantic place, like an airborne palace; the kitchen alone was the size of Kittridge’s whole apartment. The owner’s taste ran in an austere direction: sleek leather seating groups that were better to look at than sit on, floors of twinkling travertine, small furry rugs, glass tables that appeared to float in space. Breaking in had been surprisingly simple. By the time Kittridge had made his decision, half the city was dead, or fled, or missing.

The cops were long gone. He’d thought about barricading himself into one of the big houses up in Cherry Creek, but based on the things he’d seen, he wanted someplace high. The owner of the penthouse was a man he knew slightly, a regular customer at the store. His name was Warren Filo. As luck would have it, Warren had come into the store the day before the whole thing broke to gear up for a hunting trip to Alaska. He was a young guy, too young for how much money he had— Wall Street money, probably, or one of those high-tech IPOs.

You can read the full excerpt online HERE.

Rating: I honestly have no idea how to rate this book. I suppose if I’m being honest, I’ll give it a 4 – Devastatingly Disappointing

Reading Next: Dark Star by Bethany Frenette

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  1. Yes, which feels decidedly Walking Dead-ish. Not only does the Director share a similar name to the Governor, but they both are portrayed as stereotypically cheesy, over-the-top, not-to-be-trusted baddies.
  2. Even though the Zero – aka Biggest Boss Viral that will be killed in the final stages of this particular video game – hamhandedly tells his brethren in melodramatic mindspeak, Oh, my brothers, my pain is as great as your own. But you will be Twelve again. For I have made another, one to watch and keep you in your place of rest.


  • marie
    November 22, 2012 at 7:30 am

    I’m sorry this didn’t work out for you. I understand the issues you bring up; the treatment of Alicia was pretty horrendous for sure, and it didn’t have the rich characters of the first book. It was weaker in a lot of ways than The Passage but I’m still looking forward to the end of the series.

  • Jamers O'Hearn
    November 22, 2012 at 7:32 am

    I agree fully.

    I was more than disappointed with this book, especially Amy’s arc, and the ending. After almost 100 years of supernatural speed and power, who knew the Eleven would be so slow and dumb?

  • KT Grant
    November 22, 2012 at 7:46 am

    You know my thought about the first book, which I thought was a blatant rip off of King’s The Stand. Maybe Justin just loves King and his books are an ode to him?

    This one sounds like a big sophomore slump, but it did make the NYT book list, so expect a third and fourth and so forth.

  • jenmitch
    November 22, 2012 at 9:47 am

    thea and others who read the books: would you still recommend reading the passage, even if i’m thinking i won’t read the twelve?

    i’ve been wanting to read the passage for a while now (but no books for me right now, because, thesis). but since i find it so frustrating to read a book that is part of a trilogy/series when the rest of it isn’t out, and won’t be for years, i often just turn to stand alones and completed trilogies. so anyways, i haven’t read the passage yet. does it end a way that is satisfying enough that i can just walk away from the series?

    any thoughts on this would be appreciated! i have a huge TBR pile, and its really an issue of order at this point….

    🙂 thanks

  • Howard Sherman
    November 22, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Forewarned as I am, I’m still going to go ahead and read The Twelve if only because I was so hooked by The Passage that I just have to know what happens next.

    I’ll soldier on through The Twelve with just one single goal — to find out how the story progresses.

    Maybe we’ll all have better luck with the next one.

  • Jamie
    November 22, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    It was pretty awful. I skimmed dozens of pages, and what I did read was either boring or thoughtlessly brutal, or else just plain confusing. I agree the characters were flat at best, and the arc of the characters was never followed through very well. Besides the jumping around, as soon as you cared about a character they die. By the end you read nothing of the characters you liked and all those left were damaged, delusional assholes. Boring, upsetting, and preachy.

    It really is like the Bible, I suppose, in that it goes on and on about all these unimportant dead people, and everyone dies and there’s lots of misery, rape, murder, and plain horror. Great. Thanks, I needed more of all that to know real purpose other than some spiritual navel-gazing.

  • Nikki Egerton
    November 23, 2012 at 4:25 am

    Oh no! I wish I hadn’t read this review, but once I caught sight of the 4 at the top I had to go on! The Passage was my favourite book of 2010 also.
    I will still read The Twelve, since I have already bought it. My Mum is reading it at the minute since I’m tied up doing NaNoWriMo. I’ve been saving it for my Christmas treat to myself!

  • claire
    November 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    I thought that perhaps it was because I had read The Passage in one go on a long day of flying whereas I had been reading The Twelve before sleep (and often falling asleep). I thought it was terrible and by the time we do get back together with the characters from The Passage I could hardly remember who was who. It is just a bad book — a boring postapocalyptic tale, how sad.

  • Jennifer @ The Bawdy Book Blog
    November 25, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    I loved this initial biblical recap, I thought that was nicely done, without having to go back through and recap everything, because it’s been two damn years since The Passage.


    I’ve only made it through half of the book. I had to put it down because I just don’t understand what the crap is going on. I don’t particularly care for the characters, I don’t understand the nuances of the pattern of the story (I guess it’s circular and not linear, like The Passage), so I have to stop and think, which means I’m not absorbed into the story.
    But I need to finish it….eventually. I have to know what happens. It plagues me. But I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way about the book.

  • Sara
    November 26, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    I didn’t love it as much as The Passage (seems to be quite the consensus!) however, I didn’t hate it. I disagree with the part of the review about a lot of the characters being nobodies that don’t really develop… I think there is still much to be developed in book 3. For example, April’s son (sister looking after little brother who has baby with Bernard Kittridge) is clearly some type of ancestor to Alicia since they have same last name. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Also, Lila was Wolgast’s ex-wife that played a super minor role in The Passage, so she’s not some random lady we follow. One of the things I appreciate most about this series is the huge cast of characters– Cronin really depicts their personalities and such to a degree that you grow attached regardless of whether or not it’s a “main character.” Also, in regard to the brutality and the systematic rape in book 2, I think Cronin was giving a different perspective of humanity I times of crisis. In The Passage we saw a lot of people outdoing one another’s noble ways– humans coming together against a common for; but in The Twelve, he shows that we sometimes exploit one another and take advantage of each other in times of weakness for personal gain… And that even the strong (Alicia) are not untouchable. This aspect of the story makes it more realistic and adds dimension to her character, albeit sad and disturbing to read. The field massacre was necessary because it shows that the colony wasn’t existing (as they thought) in a vacuum and it also set the stage and dynamics of many characters that played a bigger role with our favorite characters from The Passage. Not mentioning the massacre at all or not devoting the time and detail that he did would have made a lot of character connections revealed at the end of the book seem contrived out of convenience. Other than these things, yes the book was choppy and difficult to follow at times but I will definitely read book 3!! Can’t wait!!!

  • Nancy
    November 26, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    I didn’t get the ending at all! What happened to Amy ? This book was confusing in the extreme. Don’t even bother reading it unless you memorize The Passage first.

  • Vaughan
    December 22, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Totally agree – I have never been so disappointed by a book. Over written non-sensical crap about sums it up. The problem I saw with the characters and the plot was that I genuinely gave up caring about any of it. The Passage was hard to put down, this was a struggle to pick up. I made it through to page 547 and could not even be bothered reading the last 17 pages! The problem with a 3 book contract in this case is that there was obviously only enough structure and concept to write 1. Other than the name on the cover there is nothing in the quality of writing that in a ‘blind’ test would even tell me they were written by the same person. It may all make sense in Justin Cronin’s mind, but to me as he should have left “The Twelve” to his inside voice and taken more time to understand his readers and where he left them at the end of “The Passage”. He was on the cusp of writing a truly magnificent and inciteful study on the human condition, and he has let himself down.

  • Teebark
    December 29, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    So disappointing. The talk in the middle of the book about god’s plan did it for me. Quit, delete, next.

  • Deb
    December 31, 2012 at 11:21 am

    I had just finished The Passage in November 2012 and spent the holidays reading The Twelve.Reading them back to back was helpful in keeping the storyline and characters alive. The Passage was fabulous, but the first in a trilogy is always the best. The Twelve did not disappoint and I could not put it down. Yes I skimmed a few pages here and there, but so what.I did find the Vorhees, Tifty Lamont… storylines a bit disconnected for my taste, even bringing Greer back was a surprise and unusual.When I finished The Twelve, I felt I could use a break and will patiently wait for the last book.

  • The Twelve | Justin Cronin | Book Review
    December 31, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    […] The Book Smugglers – “Sometimes, expectations can be a bitch.” […]

  • kevin
    January 23, 2013 at 12:31 am

    I just finished reading The Twelve and unfortunately, I have to add my voice to the chorus that didn’t think highly of it. Though it had its (many) faults, at least The Passage was compelling and I couldn’t put it down.

    But The Twelve? What a chore. Above, Vaughan said he couldn’t finish the final 17 pages and I agree. By the end I was skimming pages and couldn’t wait for the book to be over. I just didn’t care about the characters or their stories.

    Like others have said, this book suffers from middle-book syndrome and whatever problems I had in the first book were amplified here. But whatever. I’ll probably check the third book out of the library just to see how Cronin finishes this up. I don’t have high hopes.

  • Lucky Akpod
    March 21, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    I just read ‘the passage’, even though its 2013! Like I have been in the dessert ever since. I really enjoy it and wanted its follow up straight up. . . But, uhhhh, after this review and comments, I think I wil just move on to another book on my list. Feels good I hadn’t ordered for it yet. ‘Brutally raped?’ . . . definitely not my thing. Thanks

  • Anonymous
    June 30, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Not read it yet, but really enjoyed the passage. I’m going to read the twelve this summer, I’m sure I will enjoy it you just have to have an open mind, surely it will all come together in the last book?

  • portia
    August 26, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    How refreshing to hear that others struggled with “The Twelve.” I devoured “The Passage” and couldn’t wait to get to the sequel. But.
    Did anyone else notice that Cronin has a habit of leading us to believe that characters are dead & then miraculously bringing them back? He destroys readers’ trust in him over & over. How can I care if someone is dead if I don’t trust that they’re really dead?

    The dropping of “tranny” mid-book — what does that serve?

    Are there no gay humans after the virals come? Is this some kind of unspoken miracle?

    Do women act on any impulse except the losing of a baby?

    I also agree with how frustrating it is to watch (male) authors use rape as a character-furthering device to somehow “break” strong women.

  • Kristen
    September 28, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    I disagree with this review…like The Passage I absolutely loved The Twelve. I could not put it down. You say that the characters from the present hold no purpose to the plot but I disagree entirely. I like how the book explained what became of Lawrence Grey, plus he played a huge role in The Twelve. As did Lila Kyle. You may be referring to Kittridge when you mention these characters of the present hold no purpose but Kittridge sleeps with April who’s last name was Donadio. This little bit wasn’t necessary to the plot but I thought it was really cool that Cronin let us know how Alicia came to be. And I loved the moments between Amy and Wolgast 🙂 really I just loved the whole book and it sort of bums me out that it received such negative reviews.

  • lionel
    March 18, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    A very disappointing sequel. Skip it. Hopefully, the third volume will have rhythm, an interesting ploy, good characters etc…

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