The Passage, the first in Justin Cronin's trilogy of vampires in a post-apocalyptic world, was a tough read for me. It wasn't difficult so much as it was slow, with a lot of characters to track, and lengthy passages where nothing much happened. I stuck with it because Cronin did an extraordinary job with developing the two main characters in the first 25 pages or so, but it never picked up like I wanted it to. I finished it, but to this day, I don't recall a lot of details about how the story actually ended.
The Twelve is the second book in this trilogy, and it starts off almost exactly where the first book did. See, The Passage started off in modern times, and walked us through what led to the vampires and how they took over the world. Then it jumped forward about 100 years and showed us what life was like since the vampires took over, and led us on a story of a group of survivors tracking down and killing one of the original vampires (the titular twelve). The Twelve also starts off in modern times, but doesn't take us through the exact same events. Instead, Cronin shows us a handful of other survivors from that time and walks us through their lives before jumping ahead to five years past the events covered in The Passage. So The Twelve is a continuation of the first book in the trilogy, in a roundabout sort of way.
Cronin still excels at his characterization (when he kills off a character, you feel it), and his action scenes take on a palpable tension. He manages to characterize his vampires, too, despite their being fairly mindless creatures; the cruelty and ingenuity of the vampires during the Massacre of the Field gives them enough character to loathe them outside of just being vampires. Like any monster novel, though, it falls back on the premise of the humans being the real monsters of the book (you don't fault a wild animal for biting you, but when someone who's supposed to be rational and reasonable does it, you feel differently), but I think Cronin used that premise well, largely because of his characterization skills.
I struggled to keep up with all the characters in the story, and it didn't help that a large part of the novel was written from a military angle, meaning that characters were referred to by their first and last names, depending on the context. There was a list of characters included in the book, but it came at the end, so I wasn't aware that it was there to help me until I was way past the halfway point. There were still lengthy passages that meandered about their main point, and a handful of scenes that didn't seem to add anything to the overall story, but I found the lengthy passages to be less tedious this time around, and the number of those scenes was small. I still feel like the novel could have been about 100 pages shorter, just because Cronin tends to get a little carried away with his descriptions and trying to make them as poetic as possible.
The book, like The Passage, is ambitious, but I think Cronin came closer to the mark with The Twelve. It's a definite improvement over the first book, and it's done well enough to make me interested in reading the third one, too (which is an achievement in and of itself, considering this was another unfinished series that was pretty low on my interest level). At this rate, I imagine that the final book in the trilogy will hit the right sweet spot for me.