Title: The Passage
Author: Justin Cronin
Read: Late June 2010
One of this year’s top new vampire entries. It’s an odd book, long, and broken into three parts, but good. The first third is set more or less in the present and deals with how a viral epidemic that turns people into nearly indestructible vampire-like creatures gets loose and destroys the world. The writing is good and this section is a bit of an oddity in that the plot itself is minimal, but padded out with almost gratuitous backstory on nearly every character. Bit players that we meet in the gas station for one page get five pages of life story flashback. All these people, lovingly details, die quickly. Oddly, it works and is a compelling read. However, it makes me scratch my head as all the standard writing advice I’ve been given by editors, agents, and the like would’ve been to cut all these backstories. In fact, they certainly would’ve told me that the entire first third of the book is backstory, and the proper place to start was far later. At a certain level they are correct, because there is only one character — and an odd one at that — who crosses from this long prelude into the main two thirds of the novel.
The middle third of the book takes place 100 years later and totally kicks ass. This was some of the best Sci-fi/horror I’ve read in years. It’s post apocalyptic, taking place in this one compound somewhere in the California desert. They are under continual siege by vampires, and their numbers are dwindling. Their entire life and society is organized around survival, but slow attrition of their numbers is the only thing in their future. The Road Warrior meets I-don’t-know-what feel of this section is awesome. Cronin does a fantastic job of world building here, and the specific animalistic vampires (a bit reminiscent of I am Legend) is great. In some way’s it feels more like a Zombie apocalypse because it has that feeling of instant-death-at-any-second.
In part three, these same characters are forced out of their little sanctuary into the big bad world. This part is still good, but does a little shark jumping and borrows very heavily from things like the Stand, etc. I didn’t mind, but the ending felt a little forced and just didn’t quiet sustain the promise of the amazing middle section.
Still, the overall novel was excellent. Flawed, but the middle part was so great, and the first and third sections enjoyable enough, to make it one of the better books I’ve read in a while.