Title: The Passage (Book 1 of The Passage Trilogy)
Author: Justin Cronin
Format: Electronic (Kindle)
The Passage is the book version of a slice of Neopolitan Ice Cream. If you’ve never had Neopolitan, I assure you that it is a wickedly delicious frozen treat. There’s a stripe of chocolate, a stripe of vanilla and a stripe of strawberry. Three completely different flavours, all cool and creamy and delicious, all blending together to make you realise the possibilities of ice cream as a gateway to happiness. This is the most important thing that any reviewer can tell potential readers about the book, because without that knowledge you’ll come to the end of the first part of the book and feel like someone has played a nasty trick on you. Allow me to eleborate…
The Passage opens with a 200-page section that is the most rollicking end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it technothriller to come out in decades. It’s Michael Crichton and Stephen King summer reading basics, familiar to anyone who has sat on a beach and paged her way through the US Army and the CDC making stupid decisions that get the world killed. In this case the stupid decision is the unleashing of a virus which turns humans into a sort of vampiric predator. This passage of The Passage reads like you’ve been strapped to the horns of a bull as you ride upon a bucking, inescapable rampage. In a good way.
When the chocolate stops, the reader turns the page and finds herself in the section of the book that seems like it’s going to be bland, but just as a good vanilla ice cream soothes you with its milky richness, the middle book of The Passage guides you into the world that comes after the events of the first part shatter society. By jumping a century into the future, Cronin shows how a few survivors have managed to pick up the pieces and start their own new world, high up in the mountains of California. I personally loved this section, because it does a wonderful job of showing how the new world developed. This is the section for history geeks and political science freaks and romance novel lovers. Yes, it’s completely different from the first part of the story, but it’s a necessary difference.
After the adventure of the world ending and the contemplation of the leaner, tighter world that was left behind we have this third story. It’s a hero’s journey novel not unlike The Lord Of The Rings as a band of characters travels through the inevitably altered landscape of the American Northwest in hopes of finding answers and solutions and, ultimately, redemption.
All three parts of the story are very necessary components to the tale Cronin is attempting to tell. Like all good stories it is the anatomy of the human heart in conflict with itself, and like all good stories it is both incredibly complex and remarkably simple. I did like the book a lot more than I expected to; Cronin’s a masterful wordsmith who can tell a gripping story artfully, in a such a way that you are reminded why you ever began to love reading as a pastime in the first place.
There are things about the book I didn’t care for, chief among them being the fact that in the last section of the book Cronin’s artful style leaves a few things unclear. I admire his abilities but sometimes it’s better to set the 64 colours aside and just say what you mean in black and white. The other main detractor from the book, and the reason I’m not grading the story higher, is that during the Hero’s Journey portion of the story Cronin starts overusing the cliffhanger device to a maddening extent. After a while it starts to feel like every chapter ends with someone in seeming jeopardy. Cliffhangers are a cheap trick. I’d rather the author compel me through his story by having characters I care about placed in interesting situations. Cronin has the characters and the situations already–he doesn’t need the Perils Of Pauline to keep me clicking through. As a matter of fact, I dislike cliffhangers so much that I waited until now to read this book because it ends with a major cliffhanger. In fact, it just stops. The second book in the trilogy is out now, and so I felt I could finally brave this one.