ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Justin Cronin is the New York Times’ bestselling author of The Passage, The Twelve, The City of Mirrors, Mary and O’Neil (which won the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Stephen Crane Prize), and The Summer Guest. Other honors for his writing include a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Whiting Writers’ Award. A Distinguished Faculty Fellow at Rice University, Cronin divides his time between Houston, Texas, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
The Passage is a 766-page doorstop, a dystopian epic that is actually the first installment in a vampire trilogy. The story starts in the near future with government experiments on a virus. Those infected with the virus get superhuman strength and eternal life. The downside is that infected people also grow fangs, claws, a glowing orange skin, a fetish for human flesh, and an extreme photophobia. The first section details the virus’ discovery and the subsequent tests undertaken on death-row inmates. The tension is palpable. From the amorality of military experiments to the fleeting references to America’s polluted, lawless state, everything in the opening section paints a gory picture.
WHAT WE LIKED ABOUT THE PASSAGE
The Passage is an excellent novel. The plot is replete with multi-layered characters, spiritual mysteries, exciting action set pieces, and the trappings of several genres. The writing is solid, well-crafted, and certainly in no rush. Particularly outstanding is the depth of characterization present in even minor or elusive characters such as the scientist Lear or the child molester Grey. The first third of the novel is pretty much perfect, tightly-paced yet generous with motivation and context. We get to see the before, during and after through the eyes of a few characters.
Most characters are well drawn. Cronin creates gut-wrenching battle scenes to tackle the philosophical issue of becoming immortal at the cost of one’s soul. The only character who appears in both sections of The Passage is a six-year-old girl by the name of Amy. Shes possesses ill-defined powers. Remarkably, Amy has retained her humanity in spite of the viral infection. However, readers have no access to her interior life, and she barely speaks. This is obviously because The Passage is the first book in the trilogy, and her story unfolds in the later books. That said, this also means that the present novel has a gaping hole at its heart.
Even so, Cronin needs to be credited for how he unravels the complexities involved in the plot. The way he handles and presents seemingly redundant details and connects them in unexpected ways is a treat to behold. The Passage is a story of truly epic proportions; it is a story that spans the entire globe over a hundred-year period. Such a large time frame comes with the obvious risk of creating something too mind-boggling and unmanageable. Cronin, however, expertly retains the plot’s core elements. He divulges only as much information as required to make his characters both dangerous and unpredictable. The end result is a gripping storyline full of complex characters and terrifying monsters, all set in an isolated and empty, post-apocalyptic world.
WHAT WE DID NOT LIKE ABOUT THE PASSAGE
There is ample room for Cronin to improve upon his usage of prose, dialog, and literary devices. The first third of the novel is plagued by some serious pacing issues. The story seems to jump uncontrollably from slow to hectic, back to slow, and so on. The prose and dialog also seem to get a bit sluggish over this phase. Some of the dialog comes across as more of a history lesson than a natural conversation.
The opening chapters are so impressive that it takes forever to settle into the second section, which is set in the post-apocalyptic world left by the inevitable release of the virus. The first section featured fast, breathtaking action, with helicopters, bombs and whatnot. Part two, on the other hand, presents a whole new cast living a century later. They plod round on horses and get excited if they catch a rabbit.
We live, we die. Somewhere along the way, if we’re lucky, we may find someone to help lighten the load.
What strange places our lives can carry us to, what dark passages.
So perhaps the greatest worry of all was that one day you would realize that all the worries of your life amounted to one thing: the desire to just stop worrying.
The world was a world of dreaming souls who could not die.
With five stars for the first half, three for the second, The Passage averages at an overall score of 3.8 stars. It is an intense mixture of a wide variety of components involving a rainbow of emotions. Provided the readers overcome the hesitation that comes with the size of this slab, they are in for a nerve-racking dystopian thriller.
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