As well as fantasy I’ve always been a bit of a fan of historical fiction. Now when both merge together, like in say, Twelve by Jasper Kent, then I’m the happiest man in the world. It was originally published back in 2009, but I thought it would be a good one to review, considering it was released in paperback in January and that its sequel, Thirteen Years Later, was published just a couple of weeks back (expect a review of that one soon). Also, there is the fact that Twelve is such a great debut for Kent and just a plain good book.
Blurb: Autumn, 1812. Napoleon’s triumphant Grande Armée continues its relentless march into Russia. City after city has fallen and now only a miracle can keep the French from taking Moscow itself. In a last, desperate act of defiance, a group of Russian officers enlist the help of twelve mercenaries who claim they can turn the tide of the war. It seems an impossible boast but it soon becomes clear that these strangers from the outer reaches of Christian Europe are indeed quite capable of fulfilling their promise…and more. But the fact that so few seem able to accomplish to much unsettles one of the Russians, Captain Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov. As winter closes in, he begins to comprehend the true, horrific nature of the twelve and the nightmare he has unwittingly helped to unleash.
The setting for this book, Russia 1812, was one I particularly enjoyed because it’s not one that I’ve had much opportunity to discover in that past. Russia is a big place, however, and so we do get to move around quite a bit which makes it a whole lot more interesting than if we’d stayed, for example, just in Moscow. The exact places do play an important role emotionally for Aleksei, the main character and narrator, which means we get a feel for the different places based on their descriptions by Aleksei.
Then of course there’s the supernatural aspect, which, as is to be assumed in an alternate history/fantasy, plays a huge part in the story. It’s clear that without it there would be no story since then it would just be historical fiction. I’m not going to say what exactly is supernatural; because that would be too spoiler-ish, but let me say that it is a familiar myth. Too often of late writers have been trying to spin this myth in different and make them more interesting and modern (to different levels of success) but Kent doesn’t really attempt to do anything of the kind. To me it felt like the good old tales about this myth (yes I’m still trying not to say what they are) even though, through Kent’s interpretation and what he wanted to do with them, they have changed somewhat.
Kent’s writing, though not complex, has a very fulfilling feel to it that most likely emanates from his obvious research into Russian history as well as little things like some vocabulary and spelling all the names in their Russian form. This all brings authenticity to the story and creates an atmosphere that makes the book that much better. There is also the way Kent drops us right in the middle of the war, so that there is very little lag time between the beginning of the book and the start of the action. In fact I’d be willing to say that this is one of the fastest starting books I’ve read in a while, if not ever. Usually this type of book needs a lot more setting up to do, but Kent wisely chooses to do that as he goes along, and intersperse it with some well written action.
Twelve is one of the best debuts I’ve read and certainly one of the best alternate histories/historical fantasies. All who enjoy history and fantasy should be giving it a try, and even if you aren’t there is nothing wrong with trying it as well. I’m now looking forward to reading the sequel (I will be soon) and you should look forward to seeing my review of it up in a week or two.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 15 and up
Violence: Yes lots
Sex/Language: Not much language, but there is a lot of sex, though it is not depicted very explicitly
Jasper Kent's website: http://www.jasperkent.com/