The Twelve duology is an own-voices middle-grade fantasy series by Cindy Lin. In this world those born with Zodiac powers need to stay hidden in fear of death or being taken by the Dragonlord, a dictator that has torn apart the land. Personally, I think this is an older middle grade as there is significant brutality mentioned as well as both books are around 400 pages. We follow Usagi, born a wood rabbit, who after losing those closest to her must recognize her own power and realities of the her world. It is an adventurous story of community and rebellion.
The World: The magic that one is born with depends on the coinciding for the timing of ones birth in an element or a sign of the zodiac. We did get significantly more world building in terms of geography, species, and variation of powers in book two which I wish we could have seen more of in book one. Overall there was a lot of variety and it felt like a real country with history, economy, and culture. There are a magic bullet catch-alls called the “Treasures of the Twelve”; while these can magically save the day most are missing and our heroes don’t have access to them.
The Characters: There was a pretty large cast of characters, but we only followed one point of view, Usagi’s. Each character is traumatized from their world and still growing up. Our heroes all have reasonable character flaws and conflicts. While redemption arcs do happen they are not offered to every character that was ever liked during any point during the series. I found that nice to see especially in a middle grade series.
The Verdict: This is a darker middle-grade (TW: mass death, betrayal, neglect, indoctrination). I do think that it is worth it to read. The culture and characters are well developed and unique to a lot of other middle grade fantasies. In my opinion, there is a good split between nuance and good versus evil. It was a solid 4 star series and if there are ever any spin-offs in the world I will be first in line to read them.