Twelve (book, Jasper Kent, 2009)
A review from Death Ray 16.
THREE AND A HALF STARS
Jasper Kent/Bantam Press
Napoleon and vampires, together at last in this historical fantasy horror.
It’s 1812, and Napoleon takes on the one enemy he could not defeat: The Russian winter. Making both war and peace a little harder for the French invaders, behind the scenes les soldats francaise are being preyed upon by the children of the night, deployed by sneaky Russian spies.
It’s one of these spies, Alexei that the book follows, the story being presented as his reminiscences . A Russian captain, he and his three colleagues find themselves dealing with the devil when they employ twelve strange Wallachian mercenaries, delivered to them by, it is hinted at, Dracula.
Kent’s taken a few lessons from Bernard Cornwell, pitching his prose halfway between the florid introspection of 19th century memoir and the brevity of Sharpe. His bold decision to put the book’s action firmly at the edge of history is perhaps less successful. The great artificialities of historical adventure fiction – like, say, Young Indiana Jones – is that the heroes are often involved with all the historical personages of the day. It can be laughable, but Twelve shows us why writers do this. Having historical characters interact with genuine names from the past at least gives us the illusion the hero was important, which is otherwise a hard sell so long after the established fact. As it is, Alexei is very much fringe to the much greater drama of the invasion. Our vamps are somewhat swamped by Napoleon’s 500,000-strong army, their skirmishes dwarfed by the scale of the Battle of Borodino. Furthermore, though Kent’s chosen style suits the build up of character, particularly regarding Alexei’s relationships, it takes much of the suspense out of the action sequences.
On the other hand, Kent does a fine job in evoking the bitter Russian landscape and the turmoil on the periphery of such great events, the plot pulls well for all its languidness, and boasts a fine twist.