July 15, 2011

Review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage: A Novel

“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.

Wow. This is one hell of a big, complex book! 

At it's outset, it is set in a not-so-distant future. Scientists have made a discovery that they think could be used to save the terminally ill; their research is co-opted by the military, in hopes of creating a 'super soldier'. Using prisoners on death row as the guinea pigs, what is actually created is an entirely new being who best resembles an armor covered vampire that can influence minds. Of course, in the tradition of great monster movies, such an abomination cannot be contained for long. Our mega-vamps escape and wreak havoc, destroying first Colorado (where they are housed), and then most of the US (and maybe the rest of the world-Cronin is cagey and never really clarifies that).

Skip ahead a century, and we're suddenly plopped into a dystopian future, where the few remaining humans live in walled compounds, constantly on alert for incursions from 'dracs' or 'smokes', as they call the failed experiments and their 'children'. The plot thickens when a mysterious girl appears, and we get hints that the 'dracs' are influencing the minds of the colony's leaders.

This is a bold novel. Cronin takes on great swaths of time; some sections he handles better than others. However, I have to admit that even the sections that falter a bit are absorbing. Apparently this is intended the first in a series (and there is the requisite ugly cliffhanger at the end of the book to ram that point home); still, I wonder if the author started out intending to tell a complete story and had to stop to avoid having a 1k page book. Very few authors can sell a book like that, because it has to priced prohibitively to cover publishing costs. 'The Passage' feels like an unfinished book to me, unfortunately--the end is forced in a way that a planned series ending rarely is.

Before you get to that end, though, the ride is delightful! Cronin surprised me more than once, which is golden. As a long time reader of Stephen King, whose works this reminds me of very strongly (and who is one of the few that could sell the aforementioned 1K page book), I've seen a lot in the way of twists and interesting characters, and I've learned to anticipate and predict 'what happens next'; it's refreshing to be startled!

'The Passage' is an ambitious novel that doesn't quite live up to all the promises it makes; the ride is enjoyable enough, though, for me to give it four stars (despite the ending). I'm looking forward to the sequel. 


No comments:

Post a Comment