First published in June of 2010, ‘The Passage’ formed American author Justin Cronin’s third published novel, suitably flexing this ambitious writers literary muscles with a daring contribution to the currently in-vogue subgenre of post-apocalyptic fiction. With the film rights already successfully negotiated to the award winning film director and producer Ridley Scott, the epic novel quickly built up a substantial interest across the globe.
The tale was later followed with the second book in the trilogy entitled ‘The Twelve’ (2012).
An expedition into the jungles of Bolivia is underway, where scientists escorted by highly equipped marines, attempt to track down a top-secret virus that has reportedly infected some local tribes people. Upon locating those infected, the majority of the party are wiped out. However, an infected specimen is successfully removed from the vicinity. It soon becomes apparent that the virus transforms its victims into savage monsters, allowing them to display vampyric abilities of incredible proportions.
Hidden away from the eyes of even the highest governmental figures, experiments are run on infected specimens that are being housed within a secret military facility. Twelve specimens are kept closely monitored, all of which are convicted felons who would have faced death row if not for their inclusion within what has been dubbed as 'Project Noah'. However, when six-year-old Amy Bellafonte is abducted for the inclusion into Project Noah, her abductor - Special Agent Brad Wolgast, takes sympathy upon the girl and helps to orchestrate her escape. During the chaos that ensues, every one of the twelve infected vampires manages to escape from the highly-secured confines of the military facility.
Roughly one-hundred years later, the vast majority of the US population (very possibly the entire word) has been annihilated by the bloodthirsty throngs of these vampire-like creatures (popularly referred to as ‘virals’ or ‘smokes’). A small community of survivors live out their days in constant fear of these creatures, hidden away behind gigantic stone walls in a self-sufficient commune that is protected from attacks during the long nights by powerful lights that illuminate the entire compound. Their electricity is provided by a nearby power station that is itself similarly protected throughout the hours of darkness. However, the power is beginning to show signs of failing.
With the startling arrival of the young girl named Amy outside the community’s walls, ruptures begin to form within the leadership of the survivors. With the arrival of the girl comes a sudden surge of danger, dividing the inhabitants into a hostile revolution. Drawn to the unspoken powers of this mysterious newcomer, Peter Jaxon, together with a small band of close friends, decide to embark on a mission thwart with more danger than they have ever encountered before. Their options are low, and desperate times call for desperate measures to ensure the continued survival of what remains of the human race...
Like with Richard R. McCammon’s post-apocalyptic masterpiece ‘Swan Song’ (1987), this almost equally heavy tome is split quite definably into two sections; the smaller of which being the present day storyline which forms the basic premise to the tale, and the larger section being that of the post-apocalyptic setting of the future, where the virals are threatening the final extinction of the human race. The shift in the storytelling is instantly dramatic, throwing the reader from one setting straight into another entirely different one at the turn of a page.
Cronin maintains an air of underlying mystery around the circumstances of the virals, particularly with its relation to the figure of Amy. The result is a lengthy tale that ensnares the reader with questions and suggestive glimpses of a darker secret until the final understanding is realised (including the choice of name for the novel).
The pace is sporadic throughout, with sudden bursts of action that are soon dampened down by more cumbersome passages of equal length. Although the storyline remains entertaining, Cronin’s constant down-shifting of gears with the pace, creates a less engaging tale overall.
With such an epic piece of fiction at hand, a wide range of characters are incorporated within the storyline, each serving their own unique role within the text. Cronin lovingly develops each one of his characters’ personalities, whilst carefully nurturing the mysterious nature that surrounds Amy Bellafonte. The resulting characterisation paints a vivid and multi-layered storyline, where the characters play out independently vital roles in the flow of the tale. Cronin manages to avoid too many clichéd characteristics, although the ‘Auntie’ figure does leap out as somewhat of a homage-like reminder to that of Mother Abagail from Stephen King’s classic post-apocalyptic novel ‘The Stand’ (1978) or the character of Sister from the more immediately similar ‘Swan Song’ (1987).
On the outside, the basic premise of the second section of the novel brings up images of Richard Matheson’s classic novel ‘I Am Legend’ (1954). However, the similarity to the story lies purely with the post-apocalyptic setting - that of vampire-like creatures reducing the population to almost nothing. Indeed, a whole host of potentially inspired similarities to other pieces of similar fiction can be made throughout the novel. However, the stitching together and incorporation of all of these ideas has made its own Frankenstein’s Monster of a tale which can ultimately stand proudly for what it is.
The finale is slightly understated, with a dramatic conclusion delivered in a slightly unimpressive manner. Although the tale is suitably wrapped up after such a long and intrinsic journey, the resulting conclusion remains somewhat overshadowed by an altogether bleak realisation that is crept into the final few chapters. This however does cleverly leave the window of opportunity open for the next book in the trilogy.
All in all, the novel is an entertaining and elaborate post-apocalyptic tale that clearly draws on a vast array of inspirations from similarly set tales. The various sub-plots and constant branching off from the storyline, allows for such a lengthy novel to remain gripping; engaging the reader within this vividly painted new world. A beautifully involved piece of post-apocalyptic / vampire fiction.
The novel runs for a total of 790 pages.
© DLS Reviews