Grab a pen and paper before you tackle Justin Cronin's hefty second instalment in his post-apocalyptic vampire trilogy. You'll need them to keep straight who's who and who's doing what to who and why. The world gets a whole lot bigger in The Twelve.
Cronin's massive 2010 bestseller, The Passage, was divided into equally strong sections. First, the government injects 12 death-row inmates with a virus. The not-very-well-thought-out secret project is supposed to create a breed of super soldiers. Instead it creates 12 monsters that turn most of the rest of humanity into psychically connected killing machines known as virals.
Flash-forward almost 100 years and a small outpost of survivors must leave the safety of their colony to find and destroy the original 12. If they can do that, all the virals will die.
The Passage is a thought-provoking thrill ride. But the sequel strays too far from that tight storyline and introduces too many new characters and subplots.
Cronin takes the reader back to "Year Zero" -- the year the virus destroyed the world -- for the first third of The Twelve. We meet a whole new cast of characters, some who end up being pivotal to the plot 100 years down the road.
This section also gives Cronin a chance -- very poignantly in some cases -- to remind readers of what humanity is fighting to save. He does wander into Stephen King's The Stand territory here, giving detailed back-stories to minor characters.
This section is so glaringly like The Stand, just not as well done, that it is distracting. And some readers will be frustrated having to wait so long -- almost 200 pages -- to get back to our heroes in the post-apocalyptic future.
Once we get back to the future, most of the action jumps back and forth between Kerrville, a large city of survivors in Texas and a compound called "the Homeland" in Iowa.
Collaborators working with the virals run the Homeland. They keep a stock of 70,000 survivors in a concentration camp of forced labour. The survivors also provide a steady diet for the always-hungry virals.
Cronin's most chilling moments in the Homeland are the simple ones -- the metal plate with an etched number inserted into each survivor's inner arm, the people who suddenly disappear from the factory line and the very real terror you could be next.
But a cartoonishly over-the-top evil camp commander is one of the biggest disappointments, along with supernatural prophetic dream sequences where an old black janitor-turned-viral hands out cryptic advice that is, again, jarringly reminiscent of Mother Abigail in The Stand.
Cronin has sold the movie rights to The Passage to director Ridley Scott, best known for Blade Runner and Alien. And you can see the movie in your mind as you are reading The Twelve. The action sequences are outstanding, including a scene where a viral hunter escapes in a Ferrari from an underground parkade packed with blood-hungry vampires.
The action won't disappoint, but some of the cheesy writing might: "She named [the horse] Soldier. From the moment she swung up onto his back, they belonged to each other. It was if they were old friends, long separated, who had found each other again; lifelong companions who could tell each other the truest stories of themselves but who could also, if they chose, say nothing at all."
Even though The Twelve does not live up to the first book, the story is compelling enough to keep most readers hanging on for the final chapter in this trilogy.
A journalism instructor at Red River College, Joanne Kelly hosts a book show on Shaw TV and a book club at McNally Robinson. Follow her on Twitter @joannemkelly.