Sunday, July 17, 2011

Book Review: Thirteen Years Later by Jasper Kent

Well, it's been a little while since my last review, and it seems equally apropos that it's also of another novel by Jasper Kent, a continuation of his original Twelve, titled simply as Thirteen Years Later. I like Kent's style, his grasp of unadulterated, dark periods of the past that most of us in the good old US of A have a tendency to brush aside, and the moving, harsh prose that he chooses to construct his tale of terror. I hope we see more of his work in the future, as I think it would be something the dark fantasy world desperately needs and from which it would benefit.

Well, enough pontificating, on with the review! Once again, the reader comes upon our hero, Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov, thirteen years after his brutal encounter with the voordlak in their mercenary guise. Alexei's had a chance to settle into something of a normal life, as normal as one could have it while involved still in espionage, as he's still in the employ of the government, this time directly to Tsar Aleksandr I. He is balancing two sets of domestic requirements, the first to his wife, who has taken on a lover, (but which seems inconsequential at first to the consideration that Aleksei gives the discovery) and his son, Dmitry, while he maintains his connection to his longtime lover, Domnikiia, with whom he has a daughter.

As his son, resentful of his father's absences, is about to accept his commission into the army and dedicate himself in Moskow, Aleksei follows him to visit with his mistress and daughter, unbeknownst to his wife, Marfa, or Dmitry. Here, we see the strains and demons of emotion and regret that exist in Aleksei's otherwise happy life. There is a tension between father and son that strikes a chord with many a reader, I'd wager. Given that Kent uses both of their points of view, anyone can empathize with either man in the situation, giving the story a very human element and depth to both Aleksei and Dmitry. We see a father's hopes for his son to do what he feels will be best for his future, while the son merely wants to both assert his individuality and express himself in the world as he sees fit.

The pedestrian realm of father-son conflict is soon left behind, however. While in Moscow, Aleksei is made aware of two threats, one to his own safety, and the other to that of the tsar. As the story progresses, it is made clear that he has underestimated the nature of the threats and their connections to each other, embroiling him further in the political intrigues of the Romanovs and resurrecting the dangers of the past that he thought long dead. The voordlaki resurface, though not as Aleksei suspects and also in a position to cause him to doubt who the clear enemy might be. The noose tightens around Aleksei's life, and he is forced to uncover dark secrets within the Russian royal family itself that might be the key to the empire's survival.

As with before, Kent uses startling, jarring imagery to depict both the animal nature of the voordlak and the physical confrontations. Body parts are severed, mutilation and disease are given no quarter in their descriptions. It is an extravaganza, once again, for those who enjoy the old nature of horror epics and harkens back to a time when vampires were among the creatures in the dark to fear, as I've mentioned in my other review. Once again, I feel that something could be expanded, given our sometimes villain in this volume, Kyesha, I would have liked a little more of a backstory, but that is just my desire. I like to know the reasons for a villain's transformation, what in their humanity, beyond just becoming a supernatural creature, made them change.

There is a surprise ending, considering what I think many readers of the first novel, myself included, may have expected from Kent. I was amused by it, if not totally enthralled with it. Overall, I enjoyed this follow up, and once again, hope that Kent makes quite a few contributions to the genre in the future. Given that some people now shy away from dark/urban fantasy entirely because of the stigma attached by certain shows and movies, this particular subgenre would be all the better for it.

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