Tuesday, June 8, 2010

REVIEW: The Passage, by Justin Cronin

The Passage, by Justin Cronin. Published 2010 by Ballantine Books. Literary Fiction. Science Fiction.

I have been waiting for months to tell you about The Passage. I know some of you have read and/or reviewed it already; I read it back in January and debated about whether to post my review early or around the release date. Well, the release date is here, so here I go.

Wow.

I'm not a genre reader. It's relatively rare that I read a thriller or a science fiction novel but something about The Passage just hooked me like a fish and reeled me in. The story is about a post-apocalyptic future in which the U.S. government has tried to create superhuman soldiers but instead has turned much of humanity into mindless killers. A few survivors remain, and a hundred years on human society as we know it is virtually nonexistent. History is forgotten; culture is forgotten. Day to day survival is the only thing that matters- the only thing to do is to live one day to the next. And for all they know, they're the only ones left.

Into this wreck walks a young girl. She is special somehow, but we're not sure quite why. A band of survivors gather around her and together they set off to find they know not what.

But before the post-apocalyptic period is the apocalypse, which makes up most of the early part of the novel. The story begins with a single mother and her child, a nun, a group of death-row prisoners and a pair of FBI agents on separate but intersecting paths. The story takes shape as paths converge, and Cronin spends a lot of time building these characters in meticulous detail. I love the attention Cronin pays to character throughout, and how he layers the character-building between hints of what's to come. The razor-sharp plot kept me turning the pages but it's the people that really make this book what it is.

If you couldn't tell, I loved The Passage. It has some plot holes, certainly, and it's not perfect, but it's pretty amazing. It's a long book but it reads like something a third its length. I was reading it during commercial breaks with the TV on, I carried it around in a tote bag for days, I couldn't let a spare moment go by without getting just a little further along. It's been compared to Michael Crichton and Stephen King; I wouldn't know about that. The first in a planned trilogy with a suckerpunch cliffhanger ending, for me it was a firecracker.

You can read another take by Mr. Boston Bibliophile here. He's a science fiction and horror reader, who will review The Passage in the context of genre fiction.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Random House.