I’ve been reading a lot about Justin Cronin’s third novel, The Passage, over the last few weeks, and it piqued my curiosity. I’m not normally one for vampire novels, but this sounded like one I could get behind–a huge sprawling epic with shades of Cormac McCarthy? Yes please.
I was actually really pleasantly surprised by this book. The writing was surprisingly good and almost poetic in places, I could definitely see where some of the McCarthy comparisons came in, especially in the descriptions of the landscape. Although it was a little bloated at 800 pages, I still blew through it in a day or so, mostly because once I got hooked on the story, I couldn’t put the damn thing down, even though a lot of the book, since it is the first in a trilogy, is essentially glorified worldbuilding/setup. I’ll definitely be checking out the rest of the trilogy once it is published. I’d probably even watch the movie version, because you know that isn’t far behind (some of the scenes seemed almost written with it in mind).
The book is divided into several parts; first, the biological thriller in which the virus that would eventually engender the apocalypse is discovered in Bolivia, and developed to unfortunate purposes by the government (of course). Test subjects are selected from death rows all across the country (murders and rapists–GREAT idea). Something goes wrong (of course–how could it not?) In the midst of this, Amy Harper Bellafonte (by the way, I LOVE this name), a six year old orphan, is selected as the thirteenth test subject in a test that may make her immortal but also provide a key to protecting the world…100 years in the future. The second part of the novel, after some gripping interludes describing the fall of civilization as we know it, is 100 years “A.V.” in which a small group of colonists survive hidden behind high walls and bright lights, with their own customs, language, and petty jealousies, cut off from the rest of the world. Things happen, as they do, and a small band, including Peter Jaxon, everyman, Alicia Donadio, supergirl, and Amy, the girl from nowhere, sets off across the Western United States, now a wasteland, heading back to where it all began.
As I said earlier, the book was a little bloated, but still very readable. Once things got swinging it was hard to put down because I HAD to know what happened. There were a number of very suspenseful moments, and even the action scenes, places where I often lose interest in sci-fi novels, were well written.
It was hard to not be freaked out when Cronin described the Gulf of Mexico as a solid oil slick (this book was written far before the current spill of course). Apocalypse fiction is scariest when it’s believable, because you could imagine it happening… and let me tell you, The Passage scared the crap out of me. His “virals” are never described in detail but are still absolutely terrifying despite it. In addition, the sense of absolute dread that pervaded me throughout the entire first few parts of the book was really impressive. I knew what was going to happen, but the atmospheric way in which Cronin gradually built up the suspense really got to me.
There were many cliches, as some other reviewers have mentioned–small child saves the world, vampires, government experiments gone wrong–but somehow, you don’t mind so much when you’re reading them.
So yes–definitely waiting anxiously to find out where Peter and Amy are going, and also to see more of Carter, one of the original Twelve and a weirdly sad, sympathetic character. I’m hoping we’ll find out some more about him… he seems promising, somehow. This was one of the more exciting genre books I’ve read so far this year!