I finished this book two days ago, and I’m only posting the review now because we seem to have used up our bandwidth at home for the month.
First off, I thouroughly enjoyed this book! I’ve never read any of Jasper’s novels before, and honestly, when Emily at Random House SA sent the first ARC through I gave it to one of my friends – he’s a huge fan of historical fiction and holds in high esteem the likes of Iggulden and Durham, and I had lots of Fantasy and Sci-Fi novels to get through, but when the second ARC arrived, I thought, Well, this means I have to read it! I’m a big believer in events that are fated to happen, and I’m pretty sure the reading of Twelve was one of them.
Twelve follows the story of Aleksei, a soldier-spy in the Russian army, who, together with three long-time friends and comrades, does the work behind the scenes that slow down entire armies. Russia is threatened by the invading forces of Napoleon, and Dmitry, the man who once saved Aleksei’s life, brings help – the Oprichniki, a group of Twelve mercenaries that have been hired to help sabotage Napoleon’s advance. As the Twelve begin to do their thing, Aleksei begins to realize -at great cost- that perhaps their methods are overkill, and that there is indeed something… different, about them.
This novel is incredibly atmospheric – while I was reading, I was in the bitter cold of Russia; I could envision every poor tree, every strecth of ground, and even Moscow itself bloomed before me with its unique architecture and thriving citizens. Travelling with the characters was not only a journey with vibrant personalities, but also a tour of Russia as it must have been in 1812, and it seems strange that I don’t have any photos to prove that I was there.
The characters themselves are great, especially Aleksei (Lyosha) and and certain female friend – we get many different views into the mulitudes of people that must exist anywhere. We get to know soldiers, prostitutes, bakers, traitors, patriots and many others, and the able way in which Aleksei giudes us through the events that change his life leave us knowing him; he truly lives, and he has the faults and quirks and fears to prove it. His comrades, Maks, Vadim and Dmitry are all different sides of the same coin – Maks is an idealist, a man of great courage and insight; Vadim is the official leader of the group, and Dmitry is the man who means well, but, as always… You get what I mean.
And the Twelve? Well, as soon as we meet them, the menace-factor rises; from then on, each journey is made with the feeling of watching eyes, and as Aleksei learns about the true nature of the Twelve, you can’t help cheering him on and wanting to run in terror at the same time! And then I’m not even talking about the twist at the end…!
All in all, this is great genre-splitting novel – I haven’t researched the historical events in the novel, but other reviews have spoken of them being correct according to the records, and the horrific elements truly make your skin crawl. I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel, provisionally titled ‘Thirteen Years Later’.
Oh, and as a small taster, let me leave you with this: the Twelve have the Russian-styled names of the Twelve Apostles…
For more info on Jasper Kent and his work, and to see photos of his trip to Russia, follow this link to his website.
P.S. Look out for my interview with Jasper soon.
To order the book, click here for US, here for UK, and for those in SA, please use the link at the top of the blog.