Some of my favorite stories have been a blend of true event and the writer’s imagination. In 2011, I had a blast watching X-Men: First Class where the story put mutants right in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. And Jasper Kent’s Twelve had even a catchier premise: Napoleon vs. Russia aided by vampires disguised as mercenaries, I knew I had to read that novel.
I started reading Twelve (right in the bookstore queue actually) and the prologue drew me further in. It started with a folktale that was creepy and delicious enough for me to continue reading on my way home.
Right after the prologue, though, the narrator turned into first person, but that seemed OK. The narrator, also our protagonist, was an experienced Russian soldier who was a part of an elite group whose members could survive in the battle field or as spies.
These Russians were desperate. Napoleon had marched further way further than Russians ever thought possible, an experienced soldier offers enlisting the help of these mercenaries’, who work as a group, stay loyal to who hire them and they get results by whatever means necessary. And they don’t cost anything, since they live off whatever they find around.
At first the rest of the group is reluctant but desperate times call for desperate measures, and the group arrives. They get the job done, even though they follow their own methods. Things naturally go awry when our narrator realizes that the reason each of these mercenaries can kill so many man at a time is that they are vampires!
So far, so good. The premise is cool, and it is the kind of story I wish I could have come up with. Those are my favorites- the ones that make me wish I had created. But there is one problem with the book, and it is a big one: there is simply too much narration.
At some points the narrator goes on and on and on and on….to the point that I wonder whether the author read some of those how to write a novel books, saw that you are advised to balance narration with dialogue and action and is rebelling against the advice, proving a bestseller can happen with too much narration as well.
I am not saying there is not dialogue. The dialogue is good, and there is plenty of action. After all, there is a war going on and yet our protagonist has noticed that his strongest allies are the enemies of humankind in general.
But the protagonist ALWAYS lets us know exactly what he thinks. Of everything and everyone. That just puts roadblocks to an otherwise enjoyable route. And after you pass one roadblock and just start to speed up, you run into the others.
This much narration doesn’t work in your favor, especially if the narrator fast becomes one of your least favorite characters. He is self-righteous, he views all things in black and white, he believes in killing for war, and yet he is outraged when a vampire gets to kill a French soldier. So torture is OK, losing vital organs to war is OK, suffering terrible deaths by the hands of a man is OK, but being killed by a vampire? God forbid!
But it is not just his attitude or ramblings that go on for ages. It is also how the writer describes locations and people and interactions in so much detail again and again and again. Are you bored with my repetitions already? Good. Now you know how I feel.
I love the story. I love the villains. The guy who brought in the villains is also very interesting. Yet it feels like work reading through all of the words to get to the more exciting bits.
I feel like the novel could miss a hundred pages, and end up a superior book that doesn’t stall. A great story is drowned and dragged through narration.
I can’t tell you not to read the book as it is too good a premise. I’m, however, saying I’m a little disappointed, because I had expected to finish the book in two days. Several weeks went by, and I had to give a break. After all there are only so many descriptions of Moscow or the guys’ feelings for his mistress I could take.
So if you are one of the writers who love dialogue but have more trouble with narration, or if you are a reader who doesn’t like when an author is a less then concise, this may not be the book for you.
But for some a little-delayed entertainment, it is good. But I was so excited after the prologue, I was sure I’d buy this book’s sequel, 13 Years Later. Now I’m not so sure. Especially since I know the protagonist will be the same.