by Jasper Kent
Pyr (September 7, 2010)
The year is 1812 and Napoleon Bonaparte has marched eastward and entered the boundaries of Russia. The Tsar's army, no match for the French, continues to pull back leaving scorched earth in their wake. Despite the setbacks none believe Bonaparte will ever capture Moscow but his troops move forward relentlessly and eventually take the city.
A small group of Russian intelligence officers band together with the goal of working behind French lines causing enough havoc to at least slow down the enemy. One of them, Dmitri, has called in reinforcements - 12 steely-eyed mercenaries from Wallachia. He is certain they will help turn around the fortunes of Russia. Dmitri assures his friends that these cold, menacing dozen can be trusted. The narrator Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov, has deep reservations. He and his comrades dub the menacing 12 the Oprichniki - a name given to the special army of16th century Tsar Ivan the Terrible - created specifically to destroy anyone Ivan considered a threat.
Alexei's reservations prove correct. The creatures turn out to be the dreaded voordalak, - thought to be mythical - they are instead merciless members of the real world. They are vampires, and not the romantic sort. They suck the blood and eat the meat of their prey. Their constant hunger and lack of conscience make them efficient killing machines.
This gripping saga is as much historical drama as horror story. Kent convincingly portrays the difficult life of the soldiers and the terror faced by civilians in occupied territory. Starvation for each was a constant companion. In Twelve there are mysterious deaths and disappearances which are shrugged off as some sort of plague. No one except Alexei, and eventually his comrades, suspect the true horror behind the loss of life. I would not categorize Twelve as a thriller because the pace is slower than novels like Blood Oath or The Passage. Still it will keep readers captured by terrific story-telling, well wrought characters, and gripping, supernatural horror.
Note: This novel is not for the squeamish. There are several scenes of torture and murder that leave little to the imagination.
The sequel: Thirteen Years Later, set in Russia of 1825 is due out from Pyr, Feb. 2011
[This book was sent to me by the publisher. My thanks]