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Twelve by Jasper Kent

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Leyland
Bibliophile
Location: Travelers Rest SC

Twelve by Jasper Kent

Postby Leyland » Sat May 16th, 2009, 2:14 am

While I may have been expecting a Dan Simmons’s The Terror style novel, I’m not disappointed that Twelve is definitely different from my expectations. The similarities between the two novels are a historical setting and the use of paranormal characters.

Twelve is written in a first person point of view and the action is centered on the invasion of Moscow in 1812 by Bonaparte. I enjoyed this part of the novel as being more pure war HF with the emphasis on a soldier’s activity and a satisfactory level of detail provided by the author to support the activity. War is the primary setting and dictates the actions of the four central soldier/spy characters who find themselves working with a group of twelve superior killers that one of the four soldiers has called upon to help rid Russia of the hated French invaders.

The twelve 'invited' killers prefer to work alone in groups among themselves by night and Captain Aleksei Danilov, the first person narrator and one the four Russian soldier/spies, finds himself agreeable with their request. Nothing seems terribly out of the ordinary to him, but when he starts following them to witness their extraordinary skills for himself after the death of a close friend, he begins to understand what has been loosed upon Moscow during and then in the aftermath of the French occupation, especially after the French retreat from Moscow begins.

Aleksei decides on extremely resourceful courses of action that bring him up close and personal with the extremely sadistic supernatural killers and the remainder of the novel becomes more of a hunt and destroy mission of paranormal proportions than of a soldier surviving ongoing battles with a human army of enemies. Even though he’s a married man, he finds a pivotal love with a beautiful prostitute who possesses a touching wit and a sharply realistic outlook on both their lives and personalities. His privileged upbringing does not impede his ability to blend into the various social strata of Moscow residents from cobblers to nobles. Aleksei makes an overall admirable hero, even when he appears callous and unfeeling.

I was also intrigued throughout the story by the four human characters’ motives and political ideals amidst the backdrop of not only the invasion of Moscow, but of the years preceding the event as Bonaparte transformed France from a republic to an empire. Russians became traitors and allies of enemies and undead fiends, but their reasons and emotions are interestingly conveyed as several betrayals and miscommunications cause both death and dishonor. There are interesting plot twists in the story and a startling ending –akin to a mental game of chess between one of the Twelve and Aleksei.

One criticism I do have regards the author’s use of occasional anachronistic terms such as the slang term ‘OK’ to answer another character. I didn’t think it was used in 1812, but probably after the mid 1800’s. Anyway, it seemed too modern a term for me and I felt at times I was reading dialogue between two modern characters rather than Russian officers in 1812.

While I’ve not been so engrossed in this story that I couldn’t stand to put it down, I’ve really enjoyed the author’s blend of war story and the supernatural and so would recommend it to anyone who also enjoys a paranormal and HF blend.
We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams ~ Arthur O'Shaughnessy, Ode

User avatar
MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sat May 16th, 2009, 5:02 am

Thanks for the review, Leyland. Your comment on the term 'OK' brings a dilemma to mind: Presumably, the characters were speaking either French or Russian. And of course, they would have had some French of Russian term that meant 'OK' -- which if it were put in their language would mean nothing to the reader, besides the issue that the rest of what they said is presented in English.
So it seems to me that since the whole is a (fictional) translation for the modern English reader, using equivalent terms in todays language is merely a factor of presenting a foreign-language story in English.

And yet, it does feel modern. Should the writer have found an English phrase that was a little more antique? Always remembering that that wouldn't have been what the characters were actually using, either.

User avatar
Leyland
Bibliophile
Location: Travelers Rest SC

Postby Leyland » Sat May 16th, 2009, 12:06 pm

Certainly if the characters' conversation is being translated for the reader, I'd prefer an English equivalent of 'OK' that would have been better suited for the period.

'OK' was the reply to the statement 'I don't like the idea of waking up to see you go - or to find you gone.' Probably an answer like 'I understand' or 'Please don't fret' would not have caught my attention the way OK did.

It didn't impair my enjoyment of the novel, but I suppose I'd prefer general terminology or slang to fit the period as closely as possible and still be readable to the modern reader. I sure don't want to read a novel set in 1610 or so to be written in the English of that period!
We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams ~ Arthur O'Shaughnessy, Ode

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Sat May 16th, 2009, 10:19 pm

Thanks for the review, Leyland. I'm nearly ready to fish this one out of my TBR file. It was the historical setting of Russia during the Napoleonic Wars which first caught my attention.

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Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Sat May 16th, 2009, 11:29 pm

Always a tough choice for an author has to write dialogue for another period and language. How do you make it sound authentic and not too modern, but on the other hand not over do it so the reader is driven nuts? A couple of recent authors have gone waaaaayyy overboard with the 'tis', 'woe' and certes.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Sun May 17th, 2009, 12:20 am

On of the more uusual historical romances I 've read was Laura Kinsale's "For My Lady's Heart". The author was having a Middle English moment and all conversation was written in the manner in which it would have been spoken in Middle English (though the actual words have been rendered enough into modern English to make them understandable), e.g. "They ne harketh to me", she sobbed. 'They taken no heed". Although I rather applauded her intention to capture something of the period, it was an real exercise in frustration to read the book. There definitely needs to be a middle ground where maybe some nuances are captured without the language being faithfully replicated in a way which keeps distracting the reader from the story.


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