Justin Cronin’s The Passage is an impressive work. The first book in a planned trilogy, The Passage reads like a series of short novels and novellas stitched together, creating a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
There are shades of the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises here. The Passage is a long, sprawling, character-driven novel. It’s got werewolf-like vampires in it (enjoy, Twihards!), and there’s a magical child at the heart of the story (Potter Fans rejoice!). There are also parallels to Max Brooks’ World War Z — portions of The Passage detail a military response to an exponentially expanding army of the undead.
The Passage takes us through the before, during, and after of a vampire apocalypse. The book begins with a Men In Black–style government agency gathering subjects for mysterious medical experiments. All of the subjects are death row inmates, except for a little girl named Amy. The test subjects are turned into something no longer human, and the long teeth and thirst for blood suggests there’s a vampire in the woodpile.
Cronin’s vampires — nicknamed virals, jumpers, and smokes — have more in common with killer bees and werewolves, than Count Dracula. The virals are feral killing machines, but they retain a remnant of their humanity. These monsters long to remember who they once were.
My favorite passage in The Passage is Cronin’s detached depiction of the fall of the United States. Amy spends the Fall of the Western World in a remote Oregon cabin with a protector / disciple / father figure named Wolgast. America crumbles out of frame, in the background, with Cronin dropping hints that fall as softly as the Oregon snow. (A three-month-old newspaper headline, “Chicago Falls!” … the flashbang and fallout of nuclear warheads exploding in the distance.)
Three hundred pages in, we meet the novel’s primary characters — a band of survivors embarking on an epic quest to return Amy to the Colorado lab that spawned her. Along the way there are many Mad Max-style battles with both human and virals. Life beyond Thunderdome isn’t easy, even though Amy is a pretty powerful good luck charm.
I won’t spoil the ending of The Passage. But I’ll say that Cronin comes up with one of the most creative and compassionate solutions to the zombie apocalypse ever imagined.
Cronin’s compelling characters tell a unique story. The Passage is a page-turner, and Cronin a masterful storyteller.
As much as I dislike series/trilogies (What ever happened to stand alone books? The Great American Novel isn’t part of a series, damnit!) The Passage has me hooked. I’m all in for its sequel, The Twelve. The end of the world was just the beginning!