- Jasper Kent
Publisher: UK – Bantam Books
Autumn, 1812. Napoleon’s triumphant Grande Armee continues its relentless march into Russia. City after city has fallen and now only a miracle can keep the French from taking Moscow itself. In a last, desperate act of defiance, a group of Russian officers enlist the help of twelve mercenaries who claim they can turn the tide of war. It seems an impossible boast but it soon becomes clear that these strangers from the outer reaches of Christian Europe are indeed quite capable of fulfilling their promise...and more. But the fact so few seem able of accomplish so much unsettles one of the Russians, Captain Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov. As winter closes in, he begins to comprehend the true, horrific nature of the twelve and the nightmare he has unwittingly helped to unleash...
Set at the time of Napoleon invasion of Russia, the story pulls you straight into the time and place – and it’s an era and a country I don’t much about, but there are plenty of details that put me right into the thick of it. Following the adventures of Danilov and his three compatriots as they attempt to use guerrilla warfare to slow down and spy on the French army – a seemingly hopeless task until they recruit twelve mysterious mercenaries who’s skills with butchering and sending fear into the French army is more than impressive.
Like velvet, this story will provide smoothing shades and comforting prose if you like historical novels with a hint of supernatural and some philosophical discussions. There are many asides where the soldiers discuss the nature of war and the moral rights and wrongs. However, for some people this may rub them the wrong way. Personally I loved the extra layers the discussions about humanity which gave the book extra depth and raised it above being another historical swashbuckler. Not to say there isn’t plenty of action as Danilov and his companions race ahead and behind Napoleon’s army and creep around occupied Moscow. In fact I could detect a hint of the Three Musketeers about the whole adventure!
Towards the middle of the book, the preternatural element comes to the fore with Danilov’s suspicions on the twelve. From then on the blood and gore is increased with some gruesome elements – not for weak stomachs. But as one of the characters mentions, it is war time. The writing was thick and warming – like a thick coat on snowy days. I loved the historical setting, the natural introduction of the supernatural, the under siege mentality of the Russians of the period and really enjoyed this foray into historical supernatural.
Recommended for fans of Alexandre Dumas and Conn Iggulden. 8.5 out of 10.
I'm a Transworld Book Group Member!