Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Passage by Justin Cronin

I heard about The Passage on Twitter, it seemed to be a story that is right up my alley. A post-apocalyptic tale of a military science experiment gone horribly wrong that decimates the population of the United States, maybe even the world. It is the first part of a planned trilogy, so we may discover whether the disaster spread world wide. The experiment to create a super soldier results in vampire-like creatures, these creatures then escape (wouldn't be an apocalypse without that part).

When reading a new author for the first time, I am often concerned that though the story concept is excellent the execution will be poorly done or the writing style isn't a good match for the genre. That concern was completely unfounded with Mr. Cronin. I've heard some people say the novel is slow to start, though it takes longer to get to the disaster than expected, I didn't find it so.

The novel is divided into several books. The first book begins with the story of a young mother. The writing is very hectic, and though I don't think I could have read a whole book like that, it fits with the mother's love for her daughter and her desperate desire to care for her child. I found this section very emotional, maybe because I am a mother myself. The mother decides that it is best if she leaves her daughter at a convent, as she does not believe that she can care for her anymore. Once the young girl, Amy, is at the convent we meet Agent Wolgast. His job is to acquire volunteers for the military experiment. The "volunteers" are death row inmates, Wolgast does not even know what will happen to them in the experiments.

Wolgast and his partner have few qualms with their recruitment efforts, as the men they are recruiting are scheduled to die, until they are ordered to go get Amy and bring her to the laboratory. Wolgast has more of an issue with this assignment than his partner, this may be due to the loss of his own daughter due to illness. Sadly, Wolgast is unable to avoid taking Amy to the lab; however, they are able to escape when the experiments break out. We spend some time with Wolgast and Amy while they hide and survive in this new world, during this part of the narrative we only know what they know, and are in the dark about what is happening elsewhere.

We then skip forward in time, about 100 years, where we meet a colony of survivors. They have managed to survive using lights that run on batteries. There are conflicts between community members and a horrible secret, the batteries will not last much longer. Without the lights at night, the "virals" (the vampire-like creatures) will swarm the colony. There is conflict among the few who know about how to handle this situation.

This book's plot takes many new angles. I don't want to go further into the story, I'm afraid I might spoil some of the twists. I found the characters believable, and the protagonists were flawed (as we all are) but sympathetic. There are many suspenseful moments, and emotional ones. They are not overplayed nor do they feel forced, and you are carried along with the characters. As expected with the first novel in a trilogy, there is a cliffhanger ending. I really hope that the rest of Cronin's works get published, I would like to continue my journey with these characters.