As you may be aware I signed up to take part in the Transworld Book Group reading challenge and I was sent the book Twelve by Jasper Kent as the next book in my challenge.
Twelve is set in 1812 in Russia, at the time when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded with large numbers of troops. The French have invaded large numbers of Russian towns and cities and are moving forward on St Petersburg.
Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov is a Captain in the Russian army and also a member of a covert team of four who have been charged with the responsibility of working behind enemy lines to disrupt the French invasion by fair means or foul. To help him in this task he enlist a band of twelve mercenaries, the Oprichniki who have a fearful reputation for getting the job done. They are remarkably efficient at wiping out the French and Aleksei soon comes to realise that there is more to them than meets the eye. They are in fact, Voordalak, the russian equivalent of vampires and Aleksei realises they represent a great threat to Russia as well as France.
With a plot like this the book held great promise for me and indeed it was a good read. You gain a good insight into the realities of fighting a war in those days with the hardship of extreme cold. You can almost see the snowdrifts and feel your fingers curling up with frostbite. There is an emphasis on russian folklore though the book which makes the Voordalak seem that much more menacing. While the war is going on around him we see Aleksei’s struggle to deal with the conflict between having a wife and a mistress, and understanding that the threat the Oprichniki represent must be dealt with. You follow him on the slow route to understanding that the atrocities of war are in fact hiding the atrocities committed by the vampires.
I enjoyed this book but I did find it a little slow to get started so I took longer to read it than I normally would. It is worth persevering though as the underlying menace builds and the true nature of the Oprichniki is revealed.
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