The Passage by Justin Cronin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is long. Reeeeeeeeally long. Unnecessarily long, and the prose itself often super-bland, even cliche at times.
But this book is also really, really good.
The plot is easy to describe. The story starts in the near future and speeds into the future, where a vampire apocalypse (otherwise known as a plague of virals) decimates North America. We tour the landscape with a fairly well-drawn group of survivors in what at times seems almost like the Waltons meets Mad Max; there’s a lot of focus on characters and family values amidst the scattered post-apocalyptic mayhem.
While I liked the first third a fair amount, I almost didn’t make it out of the sections after that which introduced the Colony. Too many descriptions of what people were dreaming about (I’m looking at you, Chapter Thirty-Five), and Cronin sometimes seems too quick to skip around the really fun parts of the story–you know, the parts where the virals actually attack? I’ve never been so infuriated by a section as I was by The Night of Blades and Stars portion of this book, which was a lot of tedious build-up with the ensuing event barely written about. Cronin goes into great length about how uneasy everyone’s sleep was, but to learn about the event itself, we have to get it after the fact during a town meeting. Unbelievable. I almost stopped reading right there.
But I’m glad I kept going. The second half of the book was a blast, and the end of the book I found satisfying, interesting, and moving. Cronin has structured his story in an unpredictable way–often the chapters and the parts seem almost random in their length–and character lifelines are equally uncertain. How long anything lasts is never a given, and sometimes the narrative itself speeds ahead through years and decades at a time. The novel’s scope is actually epic, and that makes for a lot of interesting reading. And the book’s real standout is the section called The Haven, which culminates in a fantastically gripping sequence involving a train.
And like Stephen King, Cronin’s preference for his characters over his monsters is clear, and on the balance it works. I grew really attached to almost all the people we follow out of the Colony, and after finishing the book, I find that it’s fun to have them living in my head. I like thinking back on the events of the book, and I’ll definitely be reading the promised sequels.
But seriously … this book could be at least 300 pages shorter, and I wouldn’t complain.