Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sins of the Fathers

Thirteen Years Later
Jasper Kent
Pyr Books, 511 p., $17.00

...He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.
                                                    Num. 14:18b (NAS)

I recently reviewed Twelve, the first book in what is being called the Danilov Quintet.  In that review, I stated that I thought Twelve was one of the best vampire novels I had read in a long time.  So the question to be addressed now is:  Does Thirteen Years Later live up to the standard of Twelve?

The answer is Yes.  With a slight caveat.  This is a different book, not simply a rehash of the previous one, and as a result needs to be evaluated by slightly different standards.  This book goes in new places, breaks new ground, and basically messes with you.  I can't tell you exactly what that last phrase means without giving too much away.  Suffice it to say there are some unexpected twists.  Certain things both the reader and Aleksei Danilov thought were true... well, they aren't.

I have no intention of including any spoilers from Thirteen Years Later in this review.  In a few instances I'll use some phrases that will have deeper meaning for those who have read the book.  If I'm successful, those who haven't read the book won't pick up on them.  I'll try not to give any spoilers for Twelve, but I'm writing from the assumption you've read the first book.  I realize that might not be the case for everyone, so I'll try err on the side of caution as much as I can.  You have been warned.

Thirteen Years Later opens in the late summer/early fall of 1825.  Aleksei is now a colonel.  His son Dmitry is grown and preparing to go into the army.  What Dmitry really wants to do is be a piano player.  He's good but not that good.  He knows it; his father knows it.  To make matters worse, they each are aware that the other knows Dmitry doesn't have what it takes to be a concert pianist.  Relations between father and son are rather strained.  Not surprising since Aleksei has spent so much of Dmitry's childhood and teenage years away on some type of mission.  As we find out, it's not just in music career vs. military career that the men differ.  They have more fundamental differences that will have long term consequences.  Kent does a remarkable job of showing the complexity of Aleksei's and Dmitry's relationship, with all its mutual love, respect, distrust, anger, and tension.  The author shows Aleksei's relationship with his son in the same depth he showed Aleksei's relationship with his lover Domnikiia in Twelve, once again treating the relationship as a living, dynamic thing.  Too often relationships in novels tend to be static things, with little or no change through life-shaking events or over long periods of time.  All of Aleksei's relationships are dynamic.  None of them are the same on the last page as they were on the first page.  It's this, much more than the vampire hunting, that makes Jasper Kent's novels so compelling.

Aleksei's mission as the book opens is infiltrating the Northern Society, a group of would-be rebels composed of radical poets and dissatisfied army officers.  Aleksei is passing himself off as one of them in order to report back to Tsar Aleksandr the names of those who have been plotting against him.  He has also discovered his wife Marfa has taken a lover, but he doesn't know who.  All he has is the name Vasya.

Spoiler Warning:  Skip this paragraph and the next if you haven't read or finished Twelve. The book is divided into three parts.  In the first part, Maksim Sergeivich, Aleksei's friend and fellow spy from the first book, is still very much on his mind.  Aleksei returns home one night to find a coded message on the walls of his house, telling him to be in a certain place at a certain time on a particular day.  There were only four men who knew the code,  Maks, Vadim, and Dmitry, the other members of Aleksei's unit in Twelve, and they're all dead.  The note is signed with the initial Maks used to identify himself.  The location of the meeting is where Maks died.

Dmitry comes home to find his father staring at the message.  He helps Aleksei clean the message off the walls and accompanies him to Moscow, reporting for duty a few days early.  And so Dmitry becomes involved in his father's world.  It's not the last time their worlds will intersect and at times collide.

And that's pretty much all I'm going to say about plot details concerning Aleksei's domestic relationships, except to say there are more relationships than I've mentioned here.  (You're probably wondering what became of Domnikiia, aren't you?  Read the book and find out.)  The second part of the novel involves Aleksei attempting to protect the Tsar while following up on what he learns concerning the voordalaki in the first part.  The third is when all the chickens come home to roost, and Aleksei learns it's possible to do a job both too well and not well enough.

Twelve was written in the first person, from Aleksei's point of view.  Thirteen Years Later is in third person with multiple viewpoints.  While I initially missed the more detailed development of Aleksei's character, it didn't take me long to appreciate the different approach.  Like I said, this is a different book.  The scope of the characters is expanding, as is the threat some of them represent.  Events are set in motion here that will definitely have repercussions down the years. Thirteen Years Later is more epic in scope.  Both books are very Russian in their tones and outlooks.  Especially the final chapters of TYL

And that's what I meant by judging TYL by different standards that Twelve.  It sets out to accomplish different things.  And it succeeds.  In spades.  While different, it's every bit as good as its predecessor.

Tsar Aleksandr I
I opened this review with a quote of a partial verse of Scripture.  That verse isn't in the novel, but the events in the novel certainly brought it to mind.  Aleksei set events in motion in Twelve that will have consequences for his descendants for more than one generation.  It's going to be interesting to see where Jasper Kent goes with this.

Part of the plot involves certain things Tsar Pyotr I (the Great) set in motion.  Kent, or the publilsher, or someone was kind enough to include a partial Romanov family tree.  There are four generations shown (there were roughly five generations) between Pyotr I and Aleksandr I, who is Tsar at the beginning of TYL.  There are four generations between Nikolai I, who is Tsar at the end of TYL, and Nikolai II, the last Tsar. The iniquities of the fathers are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generations, at least in the case of Pyotr and Aleksandr.  We still have a few Danilov generations to go, but Dmitry has already begun to experience the consequences of his father's choices.  I suspect there are more consequences to come, and not just for Dmitry. 

This book is the second of the Danilov Quintet, meaning there are three more to go.  Kent is going to end the series with Nikolai II (make sure you watch the YouTube videos on his website since Kent discusses some of the things coming up).  I can't wait to see what he's going to do with Rasputin.  He will certainly have to carry the story onward with other generations of Danilovs, and by extension, Romanovs.  Aleksei is in his 40s in this book, and he's beginning to feel his age. 

The next book, according to Kent's website, is due out in the UK this August, but I've not seen a release date for the US edition.  I may have to special order it.  I have no idea when the last two are due to be published.  Just because a set of books is planned doesn't mean they will appear in rapid succession, something fans of George R. R. Martin are painfully aware of.  No matter, I'm going to buy and read the rest of the books regardless of how long I have to wait.  These are books that stick with you.  I found myself thinking about Twelve for days after I finished it.  It's been over 48 hours since I closed Thirteen Years Later, and I still can't get the ending out of my mind.  It's a rare book that has that kind of effect on me.

This one, if you can't tell, is worth reading.

The next three books will not have 14, 15, and 16 in the titles.  Still, I'll try to continue the theme of titling my reviews with some sort of family relationship.  Let's see, I've used daughters and fathers.  In the meantime, I'm going to study Russian history.

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