The Chosen Twelve, by James Breakwell, is a humorous standalone dystopian thriller about a group of young senior citizens competing in a series of chaotic simulations to determine the fate of the Earth and all organic life. It strikes an uncommon balance between silly and serious and certainly checks the box when it comes to having fresh perspectives for the genre. But, with such a strange and chaotic premise, does the book manage to tie everything back together?
Our narrative focuses on twenty-two ‘children’, each of which is about sixty-three years old but are trapped in a state of bodily suspension right before puberty on a space station orbiting Earth. These youthful geriatrics all are named after a Greek letter of the alphabet, are a little bit insane, and have been entrusted with the future of sentient life. The Earth of this timeline has been completely destroyed due to human negligence and nuclear fallout – so the A.I.’s have taken over custody of intelligent life in the universe. After the complete death of our species, the A.I.’s have decided it would be good to start expanding their reach away from the hellscape that is Earth. To do this, they have realized that they will need a small crew of human operatives to do things that they physically can’t. So, they decant some embryos they have in storage and set them up in a huge competition to determine who will be the chosen twelve to get on a spaceship and further sentient life. Just one problem, being trapped as twelve-year-olds for close to sixty years has made all of them go batshit insane.
The Chosen Twelve is just chock full of absurd humor, ludicrous situations, strange conversations about the meaning of existence, and clever commentary on the human condition. A large portion of the story revolves around coming up with a solution to genetically engineered mega-death kangaroos. Not all of it lands. I found that the book was trying to evoke a similar narrative style as that of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, and it does a mostly good job. Breakwell has his own voice that is quite fun that manages to feel original, but still great for fans of those two iconic authors. The humor is not flawless though, as there are times when jokes fall flat and tonal shifts can feel grating. But, for the most part, I was picking up what Twelve was putting down and having a great time. Twelve has a really interesting structure to its story that allows it to use its cast very effectively to tell its story. Most of our characters are a sort of faceless set of beings that just exist to move the story around. They each have a few clear recognizable traits (a love of reading, a hatred for doors, a talent for storytelling, and more) but they sort of sit at the back of your consciousness and let the humor and chaos take center stage.
However, that doesn’t mean the characters are bad and I was very attached to most of them (even the complete fuck ups) by the end of the book. There isn’t really a protagonist to the story, but Delta and Gamma spend the most time in the spotlight. Delta is the rogue in the story, resisting the plans of the A.I.s and providing a strong counterpoint to their ideas. Gamma is the witness who provides a window into most of the happenings around the story. All of them are great in their own way, but some readers might struggle to find attachment with these characters due to the story structure.
If you are looking for something different with a strain of humor running through it, The Chosen Twelve might be what you are looking for. Its chaotic plot, psychotic characters, alphabetized cast, and interesting premise kept me interested from beginning to end. It could have been a little more consistent and a little more mature at times, but I think it was overall a good time.
Rating: The Chosen Twelve – 8.0/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.