Arguably one of the biggest books of the year, The Passage is literary author Justin Cronin’s first foray into the realm of speculative fiction. He was originally inspired by his nine-year-old daughter who told him she wanted a story about a little girl saving the world. Cronin plotted this vampire novel for adults with his daughter during their jogging expeditions and, incredibly, he was given a $3.75 million advance by a publisher. At a little under 800 pages, the size isn’t one that would typically intimidate fantasy fans, and luckily two tantalizing additions await readers hungry for more, as it is the first of a planned trilogy. The book has already been picked up by Fox 2000 with Ridley Scott and the screenwriter he worked with for Gladiator adapting The Passage for the screen. I can’t wait!
Not your sparkly vampire…
…but not exactly your typical vamp either. The vampires of The Passage are blood-sucking, indestructible creatures completely lacking humanity. They were transformed from human to beast by a highly contagious virus. Who let it loose? The government, of course! Set in the near future, this post-apocalyptic monster of a book is strangely addicting. The “virals”, or vampires, can psychically influence un-infected humans and can build a kind of collective consciousness. One of the virals, formerly a murderer named Babcock, is able to influence a group of humans at one point in the novel to kill each other.
No one is immune
The story begins with a pregnant teenage girl. She gives birth to Amy, the main character, and struggles as a single mother until it becomes too much to handle, eventually dropping the six-year old Amy off with a nun and disappearing. Amy’s life changes again soon after when she is kidnapped by two FBI agents to be used as a test subject for a new vaccine, along with death-row inmates. A little harsh, no? As it happens, however, Amy is immune. She “enjoys” all of the benefits of the vaccine without turning into a monster.
100 years into the future…
The book spans over one hundred years in time and consists of eleven parts of various lengths, but it can be summed up in two sections. The first follows the origins of the virus and its outbreak and the second is set a little less than 100 years in the future. A group of humans in California struggle for survival as the batteries powering the lights that are their protection against the virals run out. Amy shows up, still in her early teens thanks to the slow-aging effects of the virus, and everything goes a little crazy.
One of the fun (for me) treats of the novel is how Cronin plays on current events and uses them to give us an idea of how far into the future the novel starts. For instance, Jenna Bush is the Governor of Texas and a federal ID number has been mandated for all citizens of the United States. Radical attacks have increased within the borders and gas is thirteen dollars a gallon. I can see how Cronin extrapolated these events but I only hope they don’t actually play out as he imagines.
The writing is superb, the style engaging and the story intriguing. The only faults in my mind were some of the narrative devices. Early in the novel, for example, you read a set of emails, all one-way, that don’t add much to the story. I think some of the minute details throughout the novel like the emails detracted from its power and distracted me as I read, slowing down the pace.
Why should you read this book?
If you love Michael Crichton, Stephen King or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I think you’ll love this vampire novel for adults. Post-apocalyptic , dark and expansive, The Passage won’t let you down.