PLOT SUMMARY: Russia, 1855. After forty years of peace in Europe, war rages. In the Crimea, the city of Sevastopol is besieged. In the north, Saint Petersburg is blockaded. But in Moscow there is one who needs only to sit and wait — wait for the death of an aging tsar, and for the curse upon his blood to be passed to a new generation.
As their country grows weaker, a man and a woman — unaware of the hidden ties that bind them — must come to terms with their shared legacy. In Moscow, Tamara Valentinovna Komarova uncovers a brutal murder. It seems this is not the first killing of its kind, but the most recent in a sequence of similar murders that have been committed since 1812.
And in Sevastopol, Dmitry Alekseevich Danilov faces not only the guns of the combined armies of Britain and France, but must also make a stand against creatures that his father had thought buried beneath the earth, thirty years before…
CLASSIFICATION: Like its predecessors, The Third Section blends historical fiction with vampire horror. Think Bernard Cornwell meets Bram Stoker and Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles meets Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden.
FORMAT/INFO: The Third Section is 476 pages long divided over a Prologue, 27 Roman-numbered chapters, and an Epilogue. Also includes an Author’s Notes, a Selected Romanov Family Tree, information on the Crimean War and His Imperial Majesty’s Own Chancellery, a cartoon from Punch magazine published in 1854, a Map of Sevastopol in 1855, and a list of characters. Narration is in the third person via three main POVs: Dmitry Alekseevich Danilov, Tamara Valentinovna Komarova, and Vasiliy Innokyentievich Yudin. Like its predecessors, The Third Section is largely self-contained, but is the third volume in The Danilov Quintet after Twelve and Thirteen Years Later. The People’s Will is the working title for the fourth volume in the series.
August 18, 2011 marks the UK Trade Paperback Publication of The Third Section via Bantam Press UK. The US edition will be published by Pyr in October 2011, and will feature the same artwork by Paul Young.
ANALYSIS: Jasper Kent’s Twelve was a remarkable debut, one that I still remember quite vividly. The sequel, Thirteen Years Later, was arguably even better. Following in the footsteps of these two exceptional novels, The Third Section had very large shoes to fill, a feat the book is unable to fully pull off because of two specific problems.
The first of these problems is with the protagonists. In Thirteen Years Later, the author made the switch from Aleksei Danilov’s first-person narrative to multiple third-person POVs, a move I didn’t mind too much since Aleksei remained a main character. Unfortunately, Aleksei Danilov has been demoted to a very minor supporting role in The Third Section. Taking his place as the main protagonists are Aleksei’s son Dmitry Alekseevich Danilov and Tamara Valentinovna Komarova, both of whom had POVs in Thirteen Years Later. Dmitry and Tamara are well-developed characters with interesting backgrounds and fleshed-out hopes, desires and regrets. Yet I never became attached to them the same way I became attached to Aleksei. Third-person narration is partly to blame, lacking the intimacy found in Twelve’s first-person POV that allowed readers to forge a strong emotional connection with Aleksei Danilov. The bigger issue though, lies with the story, which is the novel’s second problem.
Slow pacing, fewer surprises, a noticeable lack of thrills and tension, subplots that fail to deliver, recycled material… The Third Section’s story suffers from all of these issues. The slow pacing can be attributed to a story that spans years — 1854-1856 — and lacks the immediacy of the first two Danilov novels. The fewer surprises are a result of knowing too much information: Tamara’s real parents, Raisa’s deception, Yudin’s plotting, etc. (I believe parts of The Third Section are much more effective if you haven’t already read Twelve and Thirteen Years Later.) The plot’s pacing issues and lack of a major conflict contribute to The Third Section’s shortage of thrills and tension. (Yudin represents the main villain in The Third Section, but I found him more compelling than either Dmitry or Tamara, while Zmyeevich and the Romanov Curse are hardly a factor because of what happened in the last book.) Unrewarding subplots were a combination of knowing too much, recycled material and questionable decisions with the vampires of Chufut Kalye, Raisa, and Tamara’s parentage specific letdowns. Most disappointing of all was Yudin’s “endgame,” a revenge over forty years in the making that ended with a whimper. Lastly, while it’s interesting to see the numerous ways in which The Third Section and its predecessors are connected despite a thirty and forty-three year gap, I wish the book had not retread over so much familiar territory.
Apart from these problems with the protagonists and story, The Third Section is actually a very good book. The historical elements are once again detailed and realistic; Jasper Kent’s prose and characterization remain top-notch; and the book offers heavy doses of Yudin, a captivating villain who also appeared in the first two books, but under different names.
CONCLUSION: Compared against Twelve and Thirteen Years Later, The Third Section is easily the weakest of Jasper Kent’s three books because of protagonists who are not nearly as compelling as Aleksei Danilov and a slow-paced story lacking in originality and reward. That all said, as the third volume in The Danilov Quintet, The Third Section works well as a bridge novel, helping readers transition between one generation of characters and the next, and I’m confident the series will return to form in the fourth book.