About the Book
“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.
I tend to put off reading the books that “everyone” is reading as long as possible. I go through some sort of weird “I’m sick of hearing about this book so much that, even though I haven’t read it yet, I’m already SICK OF IT” knee jerk reaction toward most hot releases. I put off reading these books for months, if not years. When the world has stopped talking about them, I’ll usually give them a try. Such is the case with The Passage. It’s a book that there’s really no point in me even reviewing because I might be the last person alive to actually read it, but I’ve wanted to read it for a while now. I was just sick of hearing about it. So, once the world shut up about it, I decided it was time for me to get my vampire on, and I sat down with Justin Cronin. I’m glad I waited.
Horror is a genre I either love or hate. There really isn’t any middle ground for me. It’s hard for me to find a horror book I really enjoy because most of them come across as campy and predictable. This is probably due to the fact that I read a huge volume of books each year, which makes it doubly hard for authors to crawl under my skin the way I really expect a horror book to. Then, there are authors like Stephen King, who is the master of the horror genre. I absolutely love his writing style, but about halfway through each book I lose my steam. How long do his books really need to be? Anyway, I digress. Horror is a genre that I have a hard time with. That’s what I’m going on and on saying.
The Passage is dark. Incredibly dark. Hauntingly dark. It’s the kind of dark you really have to be in the mood for or it can easily come across as oppressive and exhausting rather than haunting. The thing is, if you are in the mood for something dark and gritty, Cronin hits all the right notes. He doesn’t just throw you into some freaky situation; he gives the reader plenty of background with history and characters. This background brings the numerous threads of The Passage to life for the reader. It also helps the reader with their empathy, which also helps Cronin wiggle his way under your skin.
The Passage is, essentially, two stories: the “before” story and then the “after” story. While each section of the book focuses primarily on two different sets of characters, they are each strong and weak for their own reasons. In the first story, the main fault with characterization is that some of the “bad guys” are a bit excessive and thus, come across rather campy in the face of so much stark and obviously thought out reality. In the second half, some of the various plot threads can get bogged down by a sort of fatalistic soap opera that, while bringing a bit of light to the darkness of Cronin’s world, can give the book an overall “churning of the wheels” feeling.
This is, perhaps, one of the greatest strengths and flaws in The Passage. Cronin has an uncanny ability to use his incredibly detailed and very thought out world to really get under a reader’s skin. He doesn’t really answer questions so much as present scenarios that will inevitably make you wonder “what if.” That’s really what I love about some horror books (and what I have a very hard time finding with horror, which causes my love-hate relationship with the genre). I love the “what if” questions, because it’s those questions that keep me up at night and haunt my dreams after I fall asleep. That being said, Cronin can go a bit over the top with some of his characters, and this can give the book a tinge of predictability or even, at times, bog down the plot. The Passage isn’t a short book, and some of the sections, especially in the second part of the novel, might easily have been either cut, or narrowed down a little to keep the plot tight moving and flowing. What is, perhaps, most unfortunate is how much these nuances with characters, or (on occasion) the plot, really stick out. In a world so incredibly thought out and a plot so meticulously planned, these tiny, easily overlooked issues really stick out.
In a way, that’s a mark in Cronin’s favor. When a book is so good that the details you’d otherwise overlook are the only details you can pick on in a review, that says something. It also says something about Cronin’s writing. There are some books I’ve run across recently that I halfway read just because I can’t get enough of how well the author writes. One of them was The Magicians by Lev Grossman. The Passage quickly joined those ranks. There’s something to be said for an author who is so amazingly poetic with their style in the face such gruesome, bloody darkness. Really, if there’s one thing you need to take away from this review, it’s that Justin Cronin can write.
Whatever you think The Passage might be, I can almost guarantee you that it’s not that. Cronin takes every kind of trope you can throw at him, turns it on its head, tortures it a bit, and then releases it for your enjoyment. His incredible gift with writing just aids the haunting quality of his work. Despite the fact that some of the characters are little over the top, and some of the plot can feel a little bogged down toward the second half, The passage is sure to haunt. It’s one of those incredibly dark books that you really have to be in the mood for to appreciate, but if you are, give it a try.
I think horror has a new master.