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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"The Passage" by Justin Cronin (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)



Justin Cronin at Wikipedia
Order "The Passage" HERE

INTRODUCTION:
"It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born. First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear - of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse."

"
The Passage" is the huge hype novel of the summer from Random House - and it's huge at almost 800 pages, while the hype is partly deserved. The blurb of the novel of which I quoted the first lines above did not interest me overtly much, so I did not include it in my 2010 Anticipated Books post.

Quite unexpectedly I received an arc of the novel and as I do with all books I receive and do not have a definite opinion about as my interest goes, I opened it though fully expecting to leave me cold.
And I was wrong since the first 250 pages of the novel are among the best I've read in a long time, hooking me from the first line, though the the main body of the novel that starts in earnest the announced trilogy and is 500 pages long slows down considerably and while good enough to keep my interest, is far from the level of those pages that are like a long introduction and to which the blurb really refers.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "The Passage" has two distinct parts. The near future sequence that leads to the apocalypse in the first blurb line above and the main body of the novel that starts roughly 100 years from now with the daily life and routine of an isolated compound on the West Coast where a small community of humans has manged to survive so far.

Connecting the two parts is
Amy the mysterious girl that was taken to be experimented on as a young child and now 100 years or so later looks like a teen. The other main characters are FBI agent Brad Wolgast, death row inmate Anthony Carter and young African nun Lacey in the near future thread, while in the main part, young "watchers" - ie militiamen/women of the colony that protect it from the "virals" aka ageless and seemingly non-sentient, instinct driven, "pseudo-vampires" that populate most of North America now - Peter Jaxon, Alicia Donadio and Peter's older brother Theo.

"
The Passage" starts as an apocalyptic thriller that "ends our civilization" in 32 minutes and in a relatively short time turns most surviving humans into the "virals" described above, at least in North America, and then it morphs into a post-apocalyptic SF novel of discovery, exploration and survival. The book ends at a good stopping point and I am in for the second installment, though I wish it will regain the intensity of the opening pages.

ANALYSIS:
The near future storyline is visceral, with great characters and of the "really, really cannot put it down kind" though the action is more psychological and of the "waiting for everything to go to hell" type rather than hordes of monsters devouring humanity. I am not going to talk more about this part since for once a lot of what I have seen so far in reviews and mentions of the book covers only this thread and for another this part is just a long introduction, superbly done and setting up what comes next, but the following storyline is the "meat and potatoes" of the novel and presumably of the series.

After a short interlude,
"The Passage" switches to the colony life in the year 92AV and it becomes almost YA and very detail-oriented, describing the "refuge" and its people in almost obsessive minutiae and slowing a lot down for the next 200 pages. After that, the book gets better and there are adventures, discoveries and more when the young heroes get "hey ho, let's find out if anyone else human and not viral is around", but still the second part of the novel and the real start of the series is way too long giving the impression that the author fell to much in love with his new characters and felt the need to describe their actions in mind numbing detail.

The other main issue I had with the second part beside the unnecessary and tedious details of how life has been organized in the colony, which families were the founders and what positions they occupied, details that anyway prove to be of very little consequence as the novel moves on, was the lack of urgency of the characters' actions.

I agree that growing up as the few isolated humans that have to defend daily, or better put nightly their home - "virals" after all are pseudo-vampires so have a problem with sunlight - will skew the worldview of our heroes and what they consider "routine", but even so the lack of urgency in their actions feels somewhat contrived and then later events I would not want to spoil seem also in contradiction with the presented colony stability of almost 100 years.

Once the exploration and discovery part start,
"The Passage" picks up considerably and while it still does not attain the intensity of the introduction and keeps to some extent the verbose habits and wearing detail of the previous 200 pages, there is enough action and sense of wonder to make up for that. The youngsters, especially Peter and Alicia grow up fast and there are some scenes for the ages, but I was still left with the impression that a tight and superb novel lurks somewhere in all those later 500 pages, only if they could have been pruned in half.

An A for the first awesome part and the ok but slow main body of the novel, but how brilliant it could have been were it to keep the tension and emotional power and even "rawness" of the introduction all the way...

3 comments:

Radu Prisacaru said...

Fantastic blog. Keep on rockin, Radu Prisacaru – UK Internet Marketer & Web Developer

Kelly Carter said...

I just finished this book. I pretty much agree with everything you said, although I probably had less problem with the level of detail and overall length of the story. I was very disappointed in how the story ended until I just learned today that this is probably part of a trilogy. My final judgment will have to wait till I read the complete story.

Sverige said...

I love a lot of books and I like a lot more. It is seldom a book has me so amazed I cannot stop talking about it for days. This is one of those books. I will be first in line for tickets to the movie and I actually was depressed for a day realizing that the next novel will likely take a while. Write fast Mr. Cronin!

You really do not want to miss reading this breathtaking novel. The story of human triumph, courage in overwhelming odds, and perseverence when hope is but a thread will completely captivate you.

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