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The Passage by Justin Cronin

By Even Stevens | Books | January 31, 2011 |

By Even Stevens | Books | January 31, 2011 |

The Passage is a post-apocalyptic novel that deals with a virus that essentially turns people into vampires. The novel jumps between two periods: 2018, when the virus is formed and spread, and 92 years later, focusing on a colony of survivors in California.

In 2018, we meet Amy Harper Bellafonte, who in the first sentence is described as “the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years.” We are given her background, how she comes to be in the care of a nun, Sister Lacy Antoinette Kudoto (who has some mysterious supernatural senses) and eventually how her story intersects with Agents Brad Wolgast and Phil Doyle. Wolgast and Doyle are involved with Project Noah, a government program that takes death row inmates and saves them from being euthanized in exchange for a lifelong contract allowing the government to experiment on them (injecting them with viruses, naturally) and essentially turning them into super soldiers. We are also given snippets of interactions between Grey, a custodian at the secret government compound, and Patient Zero, the first to be injected with the virus. Patient Zero can get into Grey’s head and he begins to talk to Grey and show him certain things and essentially infiltrates Grey’s mind. Zero manipulates Grey into letting him and The Twelve (the twelve other inmates being experimented on) out and the spread of the virus is rapid and devastating. I should mention here that Amy was also selected for Project Noah and is given the virus, but it does not affect her like it does the death row inmates. When the chaos breaks out, Agent Wolgast is able to escape with Amy to a small camp in Oregon as the virus rips apart the rest of the nation.

The novel then jumps ahead 92 years to the First Colony. The First Colony is a camp of survivors who live behind giant walls and constantly have lights going to keep out the infected. They are self sufficient, living off the land, and they have other institutions, such as an infirmary and a school. The Colony is thrown into turmoil when almost simultaneously, Amy shows up at their gates, several of the colonists begin to go crazy, and the lights begin to fail. Several of the colonists set out to find a way to fix the lights and save their colony from being taken over by the infected.

If you can believe it, that’s only about the first third of the book, and it is a ridiculously bare bones account of even those events. I have to hand it to Justin Cronin, he created an incredibly detailed story that is well-realized and quite impressive. Unfortunately, I think this is also the novel’s biggest weakness. I could tell as I was reading that he was building up to some major events, but sometimes the story completely dragged on getting to those points. Cronin also switches view points several times and uses different writing formats (e-mails, newspaper reports, journals, and memories, as well as present day point of view), which took some getting used to on my part.

Let me throw in an aside here. I generally don’t like trilogies or multi-book series unless they’re done well. If you’re going to do several books, make sure you have something to say. So as I started reading this book, I noted the 766 page book length and the several stories weaving together, ending with the First Colony and said to myself about halfway through “thank goodness this is a stand alone book, I’m so sick of authors dragging out stories unnecessarily.” So then I’m getting closer to the end and things really aren’t getting wrapped up and I became suspicious, so I did some quick Googling. Guess what? This is a planned trilogy. I almost threw the book in frustration. This book really is good; Cronin is a man of detail and knows how to tell a story but the writing is bloated at times, which detracted from the experience. So, I suppose my conclusion here is that this is a good story with good writing but it is long and it requires patience. If you know that going in, I think it will be a better experience than I had when I thought I was reading a stand alone book. And for the record, I will be reading the next entries in the trilogy.

For more of Even Stevens’ reviews, check out the CBR-III blog.

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