More flashbacks, now interspersed with other flashbacks and current events in different locations, all at the same time. With few or no signals as to which what-where we're looking at. Weak. Zoe is mean to Hunter and keeps stabbing people. Hunter has a crush on Casey, who spurns him but that's okay because he immediately meets a girl who's into him (for about three pages, until Zoe stabs her too). Jun/Hisao appears just long enough to be suddenly gay. Jade and Ike help Casey escape, sortofbutnotreally, and spend the time snarking a lot. Casey time travels, I think, which would explain how young Jade was hanging out with Old Jade in volume two.
I hate to keep harping on the "Lost" similarities but the resemblance is uncanny. A lot of the plot turns seem to exist not for narrative reasons, but to crank up the artificial-mystery dial. I'm seriously doubting that Spencer really knows where all this is going. My expectations are now officially low enough that I'm not planning to finish the series.
I almost gave P.E. an exasperation-driven two stars, but the writing is just so sharp and the art is just so satisfying... I'm quitting Morning Glories due to the plot failures, but I can't bring myself to rate it that low.
After the series high of Changes and the series low of Ghost Story, Cold Days represents a return to normal for Butcher. Dresden has leveled up again, and so have his many, many boss fights. (This is one aspect of the Dresden Files that I respect--most urban fantasy series I've read return more or less to baseline at the end of each book, but this one has Harry growing fairly substantially, losing allies and gaining new ones, dramatically growing his resources and responsibilities. It reminds me weirdly of Jack Ryan's ascension in the Tom Clancy novels.)
This installment is still funny, still packed with plenty of nerdly references (Princess Bride, Star Wars, Firefly, and a number of more subtle ones). Nobody makes 500 pages read faster than Jim Butcher.
But I do get tired of Butcher's habit of having Dresden get beat down, several times per book, only to be saved from certain death by the timely arrival of an unexpected ally. Dresden keeps coming off as weak and incapable. I know that if he's too strong to ever really be endangered, the tension leaks out of the story, but it's coming off unevenly. There's got to be a better way to handle it.
Sometimes it's hard to keep the secondary characters straight. They're really dragging out the what-the-hell-is-this-place factor, and I'm once again reminded unfavorably of Lost. But the dialogue and pacing and art continue to be excellent. Here's hoping the next volume has some answers that make sense, I'm all about internal logic.
(But I really wish they'd stop putting pictures of schoolgirls in miniskirts on the covers of the trades, they make me feel like a perv.)
The format of The Twelve follows that of The Passage. There's another story from the Time Before, followed by a related tale from a century later. Bram Stoker's Dracula is mined for more ideas. We encounter another uniquely crafted colony of survivors.
I'm beginning to suspect Cronin has a bad case of dissociative identity disorder--there seem to be at least three distinct people contributing to his books. First is the Writer: as in the previous installment, the story is nicely detailed and the author seems to know plenty about whatever subject he happens to be writing: oil refinement, propaganda, navigation, whatever. Terrific world-building. Second is the Little Girl Who Loves Unicorns: she's behind the goofy story element in which a wild horse appears out of nowhere and spiritually bonds with an important character (the editor really should have gone after this bit with a chainsaw). Third is Michael Bay: he's responsible for the stupid climax in which lots of things blow up and good guys become unlikely bulletproof killing machines. The whole mess was clumsy and unnecessary. Cronin wrote a wonderfully tense scene earlier in the book involving a human-vs-drac cage match. He should have gone back to whatever place that chapter came from.
My feelings about The Twelve are really mixed. Sometimes I couldn't put it down; at other times it was a chore to pick it back up again. I was moved by the whole beginning-of-the-apocalypse opening involving the struggles of the early survivors, I loved the long detailed denouement, I loved many chapters in between. I hated the way dead characters kept popping back into play like Marvel superheroes (some made sense; others glaringly did not), I hated the way Cronin casually rewrote his vampire mythology to serve short-term plot needs, and I hated his reliance on coincidences to drive the story (yes, I recognize that not EVERYTHING that appeared to be coincidental actually was coincidental). Too many bits felt contrived.
Much like The Passage, this is not exactly a 3-star book; it's a 4.5-star book and a 1.5-star book mixed together. Given how good it sometimes is, I keep hoping for something amazing. I'll probably read book 3 with high hopes, and I'll probably be disappointed again.
The setup is effective. The school's designs are vicious and sinister right from day one. The students are functionally prisoners, scrambling to stay alive and figure out where they are, why they're there, what's planned for them, and how to escape it. The dialogue is sharp and the time- and location- jumps in the story are well organized.
My only real complaint is that it keeps piling up more and more mysteries and questions and weirdnesses without wrapping anything up. I'm not at all convinced that the author knows how it all will tie together (See the TV show "Lost").