This literary/genre juggernaut is worth the hundreds of pages.
If you picked up The Passage without knowing the plot, you would quickly know that dark times were ahead. It starts out with a deadly virus culled from South American bats, adapted and tweaked by government scientists to create super soldiers. Of course they test it out on twelve vicious killers on death row. And of course the outcome is worse than these scientists could ever have imagined.
So begins The Passage, Justin Cronin’s cinder block sized novel about vampires, the first of a trilogy. In other hands this setup might have been just another soon-to-be-forgotten pulp read. Cronin has the skills and literary background to create a lush, sprawling tale that spans genres and centuries.
The Passage, like the monsters it portrays, mutates and grows. It starts off as a technothriller that follows FBI Agent Brad Wolgast and one little girl named Amy. Amy is taken by these scientists and is given the same serum that turns twelve killers in to vampires. It doesn’t do that to her; instead it keeps her young. As the twelve proto-vampires escape and create their own tribes of powerful, evil vampires, Wolgast takes Amy and flees into a dying America.
Then we shift.
Courtesy of a report from a University set 1,000 years in the future (there’s hope for humanity!), we jump ahead nearly 100 years after the first vampires were created. Now we’re in a small California compound — a former FEMA camp — with a handful of survivors. Here we follow Alicia, one badass warrior woman, and Peter, along with other members of their community, as they struggle to survive. The technothriller is now a dystopic tale, reminiscent of the Mel Gibson flick The Road Warrior, though one deeply infested with horror that rivals Stephen King. Amy, the infected girl from the beginning, shows up and she becomes pivotal to the colony’s struggle against vampire hordes and horrific odds.
So what’s great about The Passage?
Start with the writing. I’m a fan of wordsmiths, and Cronin is definitely one. Though the book is huge, there isn’t much in terms of fat, and lyrically it is beautiful without being distracting.
Then there are the characters. The Passage includes several characters, and Cronin writes from their point of view. We get to know there people, and without exception they’re all three-dimensional.
And the plot. The Passage is thrilling end-of-the-world fare. We see America crumble. There’s a scene early on as a train full of people flees Philadelphia – the last train out before the city is overwhelmed. The train ride is harrowing, as the vampires pick off the train car-by-car. A few lucky ones only barely manage to survive. This scene has stayed with me.
This is just a glimpse into the world of The Passage. There are tons of twists and turns in this book, more than enough to get you hooked.