"Thirteen Years Later" by Jasper Kent
(Bantham Press, paperback, 543pp, £12.99)
As a review, I suppose this is a bit on the late side, given that the book actually came out back in March. But with coincidence and life conspiring against me, I’ve only just finished it. So here you are.
First off, Thirteen Years Later is a sequel to Twelve. And both of these books are that most bemoaned of things, vampire novels. But fear not, gentle reader! In respect of tradition, the main character spends both novels trying to kill said undead nasties, rather than trying th shag them, which (odd as it sounds to actually say it) is a breath of fresh air in this subgenre. And the particular original selling point of these books, are that they are set in nineteenth century Russia.
Now, I really enjoyed Twelve ( and I highly suggest that you read it before trying to get into Thirteen Years Later), but when I started on Thirteen Years Later I found it a bit tough going. Unlike its predecessor, it is written in third person, and from multiple viewpoints, which takes a little getting used to, and doesn’t leave the reader feeling quite as connected to now-Colonel Danilov. Also, it begins with a scene whose meaning only becomes apparent later on, which is a little off-putting as well as confusing for a beginning.
But by a chapter or two into the book, I was hooked. The characters are a combination of some of the survivors from the first book (changed and matured over the intervening thirteen years, both naturally and realistically), as well as engagingly written newcomers. And the fact that I devoured this book in less than four (not un-busy) days should show precisely how well it sucked me in.
Kent is a very good writer. He doesn’t have the technical flair of the literary writers who win the pretentious awards by the truckload (and see my In Defence of Genre entry for why that is absolutely not a criticism), but he is very good at what he does. Both of his novels have grabbed me, and kept me hooked until the very end, and to my mind that is how a good novel should be. And the research that has clearly gone into this is staggering.As a reader, I felt I was right there in St. Petersburg, Moscow, or any of the other locations. Kent knows well both his Russian history and geography.
In terms of criticism, there’s not much to say. Aside from the aforementioned perspective issue, which really wasn’t much of an issue, the only part that seemed to me not to fit was that Aleksandr seems at some point in the second half and for some reason, of which I could discern neither, to change his opinions and motivations as to the future of Russian government.
But overall, Thirteen Years Later was a triumph; fast-paced, engaging, slick, and very smart. I thought that it excelled in particular with the contrasts between vampire and human, and how vast (or not) is the difference between man and monster, and also with eh evolution of moral themes from Twelve. Kent considers just how evil these creatures are, and even evokes sympathy for them at times. And all this without them standing around brooding, or anyone trying to shag them.
And since this is only the second novel in a planned series of five, I think that it’s safe to say that the themes of Romanov blood, betrayal, and revolution will be making returns in subsequent novels, as Kent takes his readers through a tour of Russian history, decorated with vampires and cunning storytelling.