That's certainly not a problem with Justin Cronin's The Twelve, the second book in his vampire apocalypse saga. I was VERY impressed with the first in the series, The Passage, and eagerly tore into this one. As with The Passage, the first significant portion of the book functions as a sort of prequel, detailing events during the events that brought about the end of the world, introducing us to several really cool characters as we follow their efforts to survive in a world where vampirisim is taking over.
The bulk of the novel, of course, takes place about 100 years after that, focusing on most of the same characters from the first novel. They're no longer naive young adults, now, though; they've had a harrowing time in their journey, and they're now pretty rough around the edges. And if anything, some of the things they go through in this one are among the more harrowing ordeals I've read recently... not because of the violent or horrifying nature of their ordeals so much as because by the time things really start going bad, you're really invested in the characters. Cronin does a great job making you care about the characters, and the way he almost casually reveals near the start of the novel that some of the previous novel's survivors have died in the time between the two novels, it's really unsettling and distressing.
And that brings me back to the start of the review. There's a spoiler-free Dramatis Personae at the back of the book... but it's SO spoiler-free that it kinda doesn't help. I really should have done what I do whenever a new Song of Ice and Fire book comes out—read up the Wikipedia pages for the previous books to get reminded about where things were at when last we left our heroes and villains behind.
The book itself, though? It's excellent. Cronin does a brilliant job at presenting the vampires as creatures of science but also creatures of supernatural mystery. In fact, the science is so prevalent near the first half of the book that as things that are more and more unexplainable by science happen, they really do feel spooky and frightening in a way they wouldn't had the vampires had blatantly supernatural powers from the very beginning.
Looking forward eagerly to the next in the series!
- ... isn't afraid to kill off characters you've come to like, nor is it afraid to bring back characters you thought were killed off!
- ... faces the reader with some difficult truths, in that it casts sympathetic characters in the role of suicide bombers, and manages to make you understand why such tactics might be the only choice, which is kinda disturbing.
- ... has a somewhat frustrating habit of skipping some of the more exciting action scenes and revealing what happens only after the fact, but certainly doesn't skip away from the hard to read parts about some pretty vile stuff.
- ... raised some pretty interesting questions that I hope will be explored in the third and final book—not the least of which is what's going on beyond the USA 100 years in the future!