I was hesitant about reading The Passage, by Justin Cronin; I loved the premise of the book (a secret government project to create super warriors ends up unleashing a deadly vampiric virus onto an unsuspecting world – I ask you, how could I resist?), but I was uncertain because of the dystopian nature of the book (those of you who know my reading likes and dislikes fairly well probably aren’t surprised; I have several books on my list I’m hesitant about simply because they’re dystopian).
But one day, I was feeling a little bored, and fooling around with my iPhone (which happens to be one of the best little tools for alleviating boredom that I know of), and I ended up downloading the two free preview chapters of the book from one of my favorite ebook sites.
I started reading, and I was hooked. Stephen King had this to say about The Passage:
“Every so often a novel-reader’s novel comes along: an enthralling, entertaining story wedded to simple, supple prose, both informed by tremendous imagination. Summer is the perfect time for such books, and this year readers can enjoy the gift of Justin Cronin’s The Passage. Read fifteen pages and you will find yourself captivated; read thirty and you will find yourself taken prisoner and reading late into the night. It has the vividness that only epic works of fantasy and imagination can achieve. What else can I say? This: read this book and the ordinary world disappears.”
And let me say, he is so right. I literally read those first fifteen pages and I was captivated. After thirty pages, and I could not put the book (or rather, my iPhone) down.
It’s a hefty tome, weighing in at 784 pages, but I read it all on my iPhone, and when I finished the last paragraph, I did so reluctantly, not wanting to leave the world Cronin had weaved.
In a Q&A at Amazon, Cronin was asked, “You are a PEN/Hemingway Award-winning author of literary fiction. Does The Passage represent a departure for you?” His reply:
I think it’d be a little silly of me not to acknowledge that The Passage is, in a number of ways, overtly different from my other books. But rather than calling it a ‘departure,’ I’d prefer to describe it as a progression or evolution. First of all, the themes that engage me as a person and a writer are all still present. Love, sacrifice, friendship, loyalty, courage. The bonds between people, parents and children especially. The pull of history, and the power of place, of landscape, to shape experience. And I don’t think the writing itself is different at all. How could it be? You write how you write.
And I think this is exactly why the The Passage gripped me so tightly. Yes, it was a fabulous thriller of a book, about a vampire virus running rampant, a world pushed into destruction, and the power of the human race to continue living despite it all. The plot was breathtaking in its breadth and excitement, exactly the kind of thing I like in a book.
But at The Passage’s core are those themes that Cronin talks about – love, sacrifice, friendship, loyalty, courage. And this is what makes the book such a beautiful read.
It says a lot that today, about two weeks after I finished the book, I still remember all the main characters. They remain so very vivid to me. If book two begins with these same characters, I know they will come back to me immediately, as full of life as when I read the final pages; and if book two begins with different characters, I have the utmost faith that I will be drawn into the new story immediately.
And the dystopian aspect? I loved it. The dark, bleak hopelessness that I associate with dystopian fiction isn’t what dominates the book; it’s a dystopian world that, despite everything, is filled with so much human hope and potential.
When I first finished reading this book, and began thinking about writing this post, all I could think of saying was, “Wow. Wow. Wow.” And “OMG, you’ve GOT to read this.” I still want to say these things, and so I’ll end my post this way.
The Passage is an incredible, absolute wow of a read. Read it, and you’ll be captivated. If you’re at all uncertain, do what I did – download the free preview chapters from your favorite ebook site, and take the plunge.
And a PS: despite the vampire virus/destruction of the world theme, there is minimal blood and gore. Cronin’s writing is wonderful, and he’s quite able to provoke an emotional response from the reader without the need to be extreme.