The Grande Armée of Napoleon Bonaparte is poised on Moscow’s doorstep in the autumn of 1812. In a desperate bid to stop the French, Captain Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov and his comrades enlist the help of the Oprichniki. The Oprichniki are twelve mercenaries from Eastern Europe, each is named for one of Christ’s disciples, including the enigmatic Iuda. The Oprichniki promise they can stop the Russian advance with their unorthodox guerrilla warfare, and Aleksei and his comrades are desperate enough to accept their help.
Kent does an excellent job of writing about this period of the Napoleonic Wars and the French invasion of Russian. The historical aspects of the novel never overshadow or supersede Aleksei’s story, but instead enhance the supernatural portions of the tale to lend believability to the overall novel.
The vampires are not sparkly teenage stalking caricatures of young adult novels, but creatures of blood with a lust for killing. The entire novel is well written and accurate in both history and legend.
So why is the Dragon ambivalent about this novel?
Aleksei was a likeable character, all of Kent’s characters were well drawn, including Iuda. I certainly enjoyed the story; and I positively loved the historical setting of the novel. The sub-plot concerning Aleksei and Domnikiia never interested me, and I had difficulty believing there was actually anything between the pair other than lust. Aleksei proclaimed love, but his adoration was never accompanied by action. At one point, he couldn’t wait to be rid of her, so I didn’t buy into his angst over her well-being.
This is highly subjective, but I would have enjoyed Twelve better as a war story that focused on Aleksei, Maksim, Dmitry, Vadim, and their war against the French, then the Oprichniki. I would have liked to have seen a more focused approach on these four men and their betrayals without all the pretensions to romance with Domnikiia.
There was more than one occasion where I felt the scenes were ponderous with information. The plot and Aleksei’s thought processes were so meticulously detailed in some passages that Kent lost the emotion of the prose in lieu of an almost technical rendition of the facts.
In spite of this, Kent’s prose did have a very comfortable feel so that the novel’s defects did not prevent me from enjoying Twelve. I think that Twelve is well worth the read, and I will certainly look forward to Kent’s next novel.