Thirteen Years Later by Jasper Kent
Published by Bantam Press, March 2010 (Review Copy received)
Review by Mark Yon
As the title might suggest, this sequel to Twelve (reviewed HERE) is set thirteen years after the first, in 1825.
Things have moved on a little here, not only for the reason that Jasper has again chosen a key event of Russian history. After Napoleon I’s retreat from Russia in 1812 in Twelve, this time we are focusing on the tsar of Russia, Aleksandr I, his mysterious death in 1825 and the subsequent revolution of the Decemberists.
The tale also develops from the first mainly through the character of Alexsei and his son Dmitry, living in St. Petersberg after the retreat of Napoleon from Russia. Mysterious writing around St. Petersberg in a code only Alexsei and his old comrades know, is starting to appear. Moreover his old adversary, Iuda, who was allied with the vampires, seems to have reappeared.
There are complications. In this tale Alexsei meets Kyesha, who is a vampire claiming to be the brother of Maksim (killed in Twelve). The advent of a mysterious book belonging to the equally mysterious Richard L. Cain, F.R.S., covered in living vampire flesh, leads Alexsei to an audience with Tsar Alexandr and ultimately much bigger consequences.
With a bigger canvas, the tale becomes better. The book shows development in writing as well as style from Twelve. The novel starts slowly, a little too slowly for some, perhaps, as we are reintroduced to characters and introduced new ones as well as catching up with the changes to Russia between 1812-1825.
Perhaps most interestingly is the fact that we see from the vampire’s viewpoint this time around. This gives the writer the chance to build up the backstory of the Oprichniki (mercenaries) and enrich the tale by examining events we have seen from Alexsei’s perspective now from other’s view.
This is also managed because, unlike the first person point of view of Twelve, this is third person, and consequently has a greater variety of viewpoints. As a result, the tale has a wider view than Twelve. We also see more of the world as we travel from St. Petersburg to Taganrog (Aleksandr’s Winter palace) to Moscow. Such is the depth of worldbuilding that the book manages to both explain the complex political and social background in these settings as well as combine with an engaging plot.
Clearly the surviving characters from Twelve have grown more here. Alexsei in particular has changed into what at first appears to be a more cautious man. He has concerns over his families, both his wife Marfa and his son Dmitry in his traditional family and the daughter Tamara he has had with his mistress Domnikiia. Yet as events unfold, more of the old Alexsei of Twelve appears. As crises develop, Alexsei makes a stand, set around the Decemberist Revolution and puts himself and his family at risk whilst performing his duties for the Tsar.
More so than in Twelve, the plight of the vampires is dealt with sympathetically. Here the vampires are less feared and more pitied, though they are still very scary when they need to be. Interestingly, Iuda’s relationship with the vampires is not what was originally thought in the previous novel.
The ending is suitably exciting and enigmatic. There is another showdown between Alexsei and Iuda that will no doubt lead to developments in the next novel. This one worked better for me than the last, I’m pleased to type.
This is an ambitious novel that shows a writer determined to up the game. As the bar is raised again, I’m going to be interested to see where the series goes next.
Mark Yon, May/June 2010