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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Review: Justin Cronin's The Passage

The Passage  
A Novel  
Justin Cronin  
Random House Publishing Group
It appears some reviewers received ration packets.  I did not, alas, but I am a bit slow out of the gate.

The book can broken into thirds.  The first--the favorite of many readers, including myself--is preapocalyptic.  For a bit, I wondered if I'd misunderstood what people had been saying about the book.  In Bolivia, ostensibly, a new virus is found that cures all diseases and extends life although the cured all died.  To test this, a branch of the government is gathering strays--lost people.  Most are criminals, but not the especially dangerous or at least those who have since been tamed.  There's Carter, a homeless man who accidentally drowned the woman who had been helping him. There are pedophiles who have drugged their illegal passions into abeyance.  And there's Amy Harper Bellafonte  a completely innocent girl, whose single mother is forced by circumstances beyond her control (prostitution and murder) to give Amy to a convent, where nun Lacy falls for the girl and lies to keep her at the convent. Amy strangely also comes to the attention of the government.  Strange things happen with Amy at the zoo.  And two FBI agents pick her up.  Special agent Brad Wolgast, like Lacy, falls for her.  He lost his own child earlier--and consequently his wife--so Amy represents the child he's always wanted.  Worse, though, Amy becomes involved in a nationwide hunt, the agents considered kidnapping suspects.  

They arrive in Colorado, but events fall out differently than intended.  An apocalypse of vampires occurs.  Brad and Amy are left to survive.  Amy is somehow a part of the vampires as she seems able to communicate, but her role is not clarified in this book.  

The vampires are old-school vampires.  They kill.  They're dangerous.  They move fast and can't  be killed unless you hit them in the chest.  You get one shot.  If you miss, you're dead.  

The vampires are also new school:  Cronin develops these creatures as if they were biological organisms--much in the same way that any genre novel might do.  Throughout the novel, he reveals more and more of their biological and social behaviors.

In the second third of the book, the narrative flounders. We are introduced to a brand new set of characters.  Survivors are trying to squeak by, using light or highly fortified dwellings to protect themselves.  Unlike the first section where we come to care about nearly every character, these feel less important until Peter stumbles across Amy when escaping vampires.  Also, when we become invested in Galen Strauss and Maus's plight.  Maus merely married Galen to get at Theo.  In the final third, something touching occurs because of this rift.

The final third is a journey.  The group has found an computer device, embedded in Amy, that says to bring her to a location in Colorado.  So they take on this journey, thinking it will lead them to their long-awaited saviors, the army.

This book of apocalyptic vampires did impact me, but not from its literary perspective on the genre--rather more of a well-written genre work (although Tanya Huff disagrees).  This had plenty of speculative reveals.  Reminiscent in some ways of Walter M. Miller's classic A Canticle for Leibowitz--particularly in how it leaps ahead a century in story time.

The novel gets readers--or at least this reader--to cogitate on the nature of apocalypses, the love of a father figure for his adopted daughter, and what it takes to make a strong community, especially during hardships.  It's well worth the read if you can make it through the middle.  I suspect I will be looking to read the next in the series, The Twelve.

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