Monday, May 24, 2010

Read this one in the summer sun...

The Passage
by Justin Cronin

Okay, here’s the thing to know about The Passage… The first 250+ pages are exposition. It’s okay. It’s well-handled. We’re shown, not told, as it were. But you should know going in that the real story being told gets going nearly three hundred pages in.

What, you may be asking, requires that much exposition? Well, this is a post-apocalyptic epic. The novel opens in the future; best I can tell it’s within the next ten years. As the story begins, we see events unfolding for roughly five years prior to cataclysm and its immediate aftermath. Essentially, we’re seeing how our world becomes the nightmarish world that comprises the bulk of this epic. At nearly 800 pages, it’s only the first novel of a planned trilogy!

The elements of Cronin’s novel are highly derivative—which I don’t necessarily consider a problem. It’s the tale of a government experiment run amok. In trying to alter an exotic virus to create super soldiers, the U.S. Army creates… something else. Something no longer human. Something deadly. Of course, it gets out, and it spreads.

The most obvious comparison would be Stephen King’s The Stand—for more reasons than I will enumerate here. There are echoes of other King novels as well. One of the major characters in The Passage, possibly a source of salvation, is a young girl. Swan Song, anyone? The virus changes those infected into vampire-like creatures reminiscent of Matheson’s I am Legend and any number of contemporary novels influenced by that classic. The surviving people, possibly the very last surviving people, live in a commune, entirely dependent upon tall walls and bright lights to keep the monsters at bay. This and other aspects reminded me of Jeanne DuPrau’s Books of Ember series.

I don’t know if Cronin has read any or all of those works. Regardless of whether he has or not, he’s taken archetypal elements and created his own story. This novel has more pre-publication hype than anything I’ve ever seen—including The DaVinci Code. If it’s not a monster bestseller, heads will roll. Heads. Will. Roll. Based on the hype and buzz alone, I expected a slam dunk. For me, it wasn’t.

Despite his literary pedigree, Cronin doesn’t have the way with characters that King does. That said, I definitely enjoyed this novel. While the length is great, I didn’t find it to be excessive, and I never grew bored. Cronin gave himself room to tell his tale expansively. He paced the story well and paid good attention to details. This isn’t a novel I feel the need to rave about, but I enjoyed reading it. And there’s no question at all that I’ll continue with the series. While this arc of the story comes to a conclusion, larger plot elements are left unresolved, and with a cliff-hanger even. Ugh! I’m looking forward to seeing where Mr. Cronin goes in Book Two.

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