A lot has been said about Justin Cronin's The Passage. Lots of rave reviews out there, movie rights, yada yada yada. I've been intrigued by this novel ever since Simon Spanton sent me an ARC a couple of years ago. The package arrived with a note explaining that Orion didn't think this was speculative fiction, but Spanton disagreed. After reading it, so do I.
So why did I wait this long to finally give it a shot? Mainly because of its titanic size. Weighing in at nearly 900 pages, I hesitated to give an author I had never heard off such a big chunk of my reading time. Twice I wanted to bring The Passage with me on a trip, but the hardback edition was way to bulky to be an option. And then, just a few weeks before flying away to Mexico, the mass market paperback edition showed up in my mailbox. So this time, I had no excuse and I brought it with me.
Here's a blurb:
'It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.'
First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear - of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.
As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he's done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey - spanning miles and decades - towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.
With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction.
Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic novels seem to be a dime a dozen these days, so I was curious to see what was supposed to be so special about this one. Some went so far as to claim that it was a masterpiece akin to Stephen King's The Stand. Well, I beg to differ. It's a good book, no question. But claiming that it's a masterpiece is quite a stretch.
Justin Cronin writes extremely well. His vivid narrative creates an imagery that leaps off the page and he has a veritable knack for creating well-drawn characters you can't help but root for. And yet, virtually all of the post-apocalyptic storylines trigger feelings of déjà vu as you read along, which I found quite off-putting at times.
In my opinion, The Passage was an addictive page-turner during the first two parts of the novel, "The Worst Dream in the World" and "The Year of Zero." This is the apocalyptic portion of the book and it's simply awesome. The story grabbed hold of me and captivated me from the very beginning. Though the author plays his cards too close to his chest to my liking and divulge way too little information as to what led to the destruction of the USA, following those events through the eyes Carter, Wolgast, Sister Lacey, Grey, and the others was fascinating.
Still, there were so many plot holes that remain unanswered as we reach the end of the book. I can only hope that they will be addressed in the second installment, The Twelve. Plot holes such as how did Project Noah know to send Wolgast and his partner to capture Amy, given her importance in the greater scheme of things. As things stand, I'm giving Cronin the benefit of the doubt and consider this a RAFO (read and find out) kind of thing. But The Passage leaves one with various unanswered questions, questions whose importance could make or break this series to a certain extent.
As I mentioned, regardless of the plot holes, the portion of the novels which occurs in real time is well nigh impossible to put down. Even jaded vampire aficionados will find themselves reading past their usual bedtime. The main problem, for me at least, is that there was no transition between the Year of Zero and the fast-forward nearly a century into the future, other than the extract from Ida Jackson's journal dating from the second year following the outbreak of the virus.
And beginning with the third part, "The Last City," the tale takes place 92 years later. The USA are no more and millions have perished. No one knows what took place and there is no contact with the outside world. That's where the déjà vu kicks in, with old technology left behind that is starting to fail, with technology lying there but with people with no knowledge of how to use it, with small colonies living in fear and ignorance, etc. Plot devices that have been used time and again.
For all that it feels like nothing new, Justin Cronin is talented enough to write a suspenseful tale filled with engaging characters. Peter, Theo, Alicia, Caleb, Michael, Sara, Alicia, Hollis, and the others were an endearing bunch of protagonists. And yet, the magic of the first two parts was missing. Reaching the tenth part, "The Angel of the Mountain," the story regains momentum. Secrets, albeit too few, are finally disclosed when Peter learns about the truth behind Project Noah and the finale is a thrilling roller-coaster ride.
The author deserves credit for capping it all off with style with a great ending that makes you want to beg for more. It remains to be seen if The Twelve will manage to live up to the lofty expectations generated by The Passage. . . Although it can never be called a masterpiece that can stand alongside King's The Stand, Cronin wrote an epic, richly detailed, complex supernatural thriller that should please most genre readers.