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Set in Russia in the year of 1812 amidst the height of the Napolenic wars, Twelve is an alternative vampire novel with more than a little historical fiction thrown into the mix. It deals mainly with the Russian army and a band of irregulars charged with halting the French's advance before they can reach Moscow and the capital of St.Petersberg. In desperation, with none of their own tactics working, these irregulars enlist the help of the Twelve; a group of Voordalak, with the aim of seeing their enemies decimated and unable to relaunch any attacks. Unfortunately, they don't quite grasp the full horror of the weapon they have unleashed.....
I really wanted to like this and thought it a brilliant concept but unfortunately I could not say the same for Jasper Kent's writing! I found the lead characters to be vacuous and very difficult to even associate with much less like and though the vampires showed promise, the use of them was intrinsically flawed throughout!
The main criteria for historical fiction, more than any other genre I would argue, is that it needs to absorb you into its world very very quickly. You need to be able to imagine you are there and of the time and if an author does not do this very early on, then you might as well be reading a novel based on a council estate. This was my main fault with this book! At no point was I convinced that I was in Nineteeth Century Russia and, aside from a few historical events that are mentioned here and there, there was no real sense of time displacement. The characters all communicated in very much modern-day language and the whole novel just felt like an unmitigating and unbelievable fiasco. None of the plot strands felt as though they were pulling together until I was left with a bit of a mess that never really impressed me on any single level!
There are those who will no doubt enjoy this profusely but I am sorry to say, and I mean no disrespect to any of them reading this, that what they are enjoying is an unchallenging and compromised read that is aimed at the easy-reading market and which will eliminate any "real" fans of good historical fiction very early on!
This was one definitely not for me!
The Voordalak - a creature from myth and legend from Russian literature is brought to an english speaking world, as a creature which is far away from the world of teenage vampires, to the horrors of the French retreat from Moscow in 1812.
"After the merchants children had done there work, there was not a single bird left alive in the town of Uryupin. They would never return" so we are introduced to the mythical nature of the Voordalak, this nature is explored further when the Russians desperate in front of the French Napoleonic army invite a group of 12 soldiers to help the fightback.
These 12 arrive along with tales of travelling plague and something darker and immediately show their fighting prowess but how can 12 have an effect against the French army.
So here we have a novel merging history, fantasy and folklore to bring us the retreat of France from Moscow and the horrors they encounter.
This combination is of course not a natural one but Jesper Kent brings this together well, he uses the Voordalak as dark brooding figures and doesn't give them a central voice rather they are viewed from the perspective of the Russian Captain Danilov.
This tactic gives them a brooding menace and an unknown objective, the French are the prey and are first the enemy, then they are to be pitied, Danilov has to contend with the desire to remove the French and the despair over the activities of these inhuman killers.
The greatest horror to ever befall an army was the retreat of Napoleons French army in 1812, it led to tales of horror, starvation, cannabalism, desperation and destruction. So in this world of horror, Kent manages to add another element of a race picking off these desperate human beings. The Voordalak are the predators taking the French as they wither and die, Kent brings this horror together brilliantly and cleverly he manages to rein himself in when describing death and destruction.
The Voordalak are different beasts compared with the usual depiction of vampires, they aren't aristocratic, vane, urbane or psychotic but are more earthy and focused on one thing - blood. They also have no scruples and no desires other than their need for blood, this gives them a far more realistic edge than the gothic hammer house style of vampire. They don't dress impeccably, they don't have a cut glass accent or a preference for beautiful semi naked women but have a need for blood from any source.
This is a book with 6 main characters, all humans, with Danilov as the central voice, they are all Russian and all have a view on these deadly creatures, they are flawed and damaged and not all view the Voordalak as an evil. The French are the silent voices, we don't have an insight into their world but we view there inevitable destruction with an almost cold detached manner.
This is grown up, chunky fantasy writing, this is a novel about blood thirsty monsters, they don't glitter or play baseball but have a blood rush which makes them incredibly dangerous and because of that incredibly readable. Kent keeps the story going, he has obviously researched the real events of 1812 thoroughly and this aids his telling because he uses the invasion as a backdrop to horror and gore.
The only negative is the slightly weak ending and there could have been more edge or tension in the book but we shouldn't be too critical.
Twelve comes in at 492 pages and published by Bantam Books. There is a sequel called thirteen years later so the tale of the Voordalak is far from over.