Twelve by Jasper Kent

Rating: 
3

Captain Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov is part of an elite group Russian spies, working to stem the tide of Napoleon's army as it pillages its way across the Russian landscape en route to Moscow.  He soon finds himself fighting alongside a group of twelve highly-skilled Wallachians who call themselves the "Oprichniki," savage fighters who prefer close combat and only work at night -- and who claim they can halt the invasion of the French troops.  Although Danilov questions how only twelve men can turn the tide of the war, he soon discovers just how efficient these mercenaries are, but begins to have doubts about the motives of this secretive group.  But after discovering the horrible truth about the Oprichniki, Danilov decides that his new allies are actually a threat to all of mankind, and it's left up to him to rid the world of these legendary creatures of nightmares.

With the invasion of Napoleon's army into Russia as a backdrop, Jasper Kent weaves an interesting tale about a conflicted soldier who would do anything to protect his homeland from the French army.  But the man soon realizes that his new allies, with their inflated expectations, are too good to be true.  The tale infuses folklore about these voordalak mercenaries, a group of traditional vampires who are born to kill -- and who definitely do not sparkle in the sunlight. (Nor do they see humans as anything beyond being a food source.)

The story itself is a little slow moving up until Danilov discovers the truth about the Oprichniki, but then moves at a quicker pace as he hunts them down one by one.  The main issue I have with this book is just how easily Danilov manages to kill these savage bloodsuckers; many times it seems like there's a little too much divine intervention going on.  The man himself spends quite a bit of time reflecting on the events around him; it's hard to imagine that a soldier caught up in such carnage and horror could be so much of a philosopher.  Ultimately I found the secondary character of Maks to be much more interesting.  It is nice to see vampires that are more traditional and less cuddly, however one particular scene with the Oprichniki is straight out of a "torture-porn" film, and seems very out of place in a novel that otherwise keeps most of their exploits hidden in the shadows.  I'm all for a big reveal of the horrors they commit, but I believe this scene goes a little too far.

For those who enjoy historical fiction, Twelve will be a worthwhile read, especially for those who are tired of vampires being so cute and cuddly.  The story continues in the sequel Thirteen Years Later.

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From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

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