Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"The Passage" by Justin Cronin

Summary: Wolgast, an FBI agent, is assigned to convince death-row inmates to agree to an army experiment.  No one's clear exactly on what the experiment is, but the term "vampire" has been floated around.  Wolgast dutifully does his assignment until he's assigned to bring in someone different--a six-year-old girl named Amy.  When the experiment goes wildly out of control, humanity is plunged into chaos, and it is Amy who will have to be mankind's savior.

Musings: I was initially skeptical of this book, both because of the length (it's over 700 pages, and I have to really be interested to put in that kind of time) and its core topic: vampires.  But the length and the topic ended up not being issues because the term "epic vampire novel" isn't really the right way to describe The Passage.

At its core, The Passage is really a post-apocalyptic zombie novel--only the zombies are vampires.  But in feeling, scope, and plot, the book mirrors many of the common zombie stories of today, with desperate and isolated groups of humans fighting against an overwhelming and depersonalized force.  Furthermore, although the science fiction behind the creation of the vampires is ever-present, the book itself is rarely about the science.  Instead, it is a story of adventure, survival, and banding together.

The first main section of the book takes place in the near future in a world little changed from our own.  Various forces are being brought together for mysterious reasons.  This look at the pre-apocalypse is typically absent from dystopian books.  We often see the dysoptia, but only hear about the forces that brought it about.  I liked that The Passage focuses on the genesis of the destruction that later occurs, as it gives the reader greater insight as to what's happening as the book progresses.

The second main section of the book takes place nearly one hundred years later.  I know some reviewers have complained about the jump, which leaves the reader in a different setting with entirely different characters.  I had no problem moving on to a different story with a different cast, but the jump meant a shift in content that did take some getting used to.  The first section of the book takes place in our world, but in the second section, the world has completely changed.  Although there are people, the reader must suddenly guess at the meaning of many capital words: Walkers, Watchers, the Colony.  And only slowly is the reader filled in on what has happened in the years in between the sections.  At times I found all the mystery a bit grating and confusing, but gradually I became accustomed to the new setting.

At its core, The Passage is a story about faith, and I think that message carried through, except for what I consider a cheap last minute and unnecessary ending.  The book did not feel as long as it is while I was reading, though sometimes I longed to be farther along in the story.  There's nothing particularly new in the world-building or characterization, but Cronin has succeeded in creating a compelling story in which the reader cares deeply about what happens.

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