Thirteen Years Later
by Jasper Kent
First off: Thirteen Years Later, as the title suggests, is the second book in the series. It stands alone nicely, but I do recommend reading the first one before this one. Spoilers in the review are of the most minor sort, but there will be a few.
Thirteen Years Later starts off like a good historical novel. Aleksandr, tsar of Russia, has a vision. Aleksei, spymaster, husband and father, discovers his wife’s infidelity and deals with his son’s anger over his frequent absences. Kent sets the scene well, laying out Russia’s turmoil as it transitions from the old world to the new.
He’s just getting a good handle on the situation when the vampires show up. It isn’t the first time Alexei has dealt with them, either. An old friend is back in town, leading Aleksei through an elaborate game with an unclear goal. Beneath it all, Aleksei’s worst nightmare brings the fate of Russia itself onto the scales, and Aleksei finds himself one step behind the deadliest game he’s ever played. Nothing is sacred or safe. While Aleksei chases clues, the Northern Society lays the foundations for the Decembrist uprising. Besieged on all sides, Aleksei and Aleksandre struggle to get ahead of their enemies.
The vampires are a few steps ahead of them, however, and have some cards up their sleeve. Every time Aleksei thinks he has them outwitted, they throw a him a new curve.
Aleksei is an interesting hero. He’s brilliantly intelligent, knows his game, and has more than the usual array of tools and knowledge at his fingertips. And yet he’s always being danced by the vampires. He passes up multiple chances to kill the main villain. He lets things get worse and worse. On the one hand, it could be construed as the sign of a very human character. But it got to the point where I desperately wanted to reach through the book and stab the guy for Aleksei.
Kent knows his Russia, and his vampires. Russia comes alive, its unique political and social standing being acknowledged and utilized. This isn’t so much a vampire story as a Russian story, with vampires in. The naming conventions can get a little difficult to remember, and there were a couple of times I had to re-read to figure out who was doing what.
The story does, at times, move slowly. In a way, the setting necessitates this. Like any novel exploring societal and cultural change, revolution, political upheaval and personal conflict, there’s a lot to be covered. Russia is very nearly a character in its own right. A large cast and multiple plot threads mean there’s always something happening, but it can take a long time to get there.
In short, I’d judge this to be a love/hate sort of book. You’ll love it if you like tons of detail, fully-drawn settings, and musing on the nature of vampires, combined with lots of mystery and some good political intrigue. You’ll hate it if you want rip-roaring vampire action.
Overall? I like it, I enjoyed reading it, and I’ll be looking forward to the rest of this series. Then again, I enjoyed War and Peace.