By Justin Cronin
I’ve returned to apocalypses, this time with vampires! The Passage is basically the opposite of On the Beach; still very good but also very stressful. This apocalypse is caused by a virus that turns people into what the survivors call vampires, but also have some elements of zombies to them. The infected have an insatiable hunger and are very, very fast and strong, reminding me a great deal of the movie “28 Days Later,” which I also loved.
Author Justin Cronin gives this premise an amazingly wide scope, addressing the inner lives of the surviving humans, the viral-infected “vampires,” and the ineffable plan of the Old Testament God over almost a century of time. He is able to do all this because this book is over 700 pages, which I didn’t realize until I saw the long line of dots on my kindle. I was initially extremely daunted, but it starts with three very different storylines, told from multiple points of view, so it almost felt like reading three different books, thus breaking it up a bit. I was almost immediately hooked, but while I found it really hard to put down when reading, I also found myself resisting picking it up again, too, because it was just so emotionally devastating.
The thing is, both good and bad things happen to the characters, but the good things tend to be basic survival, like they were sure they were going to die and then they didn’t, while the bad things are horrible, heart-wrenching things done by garbage people in a garbage world. It wouldn’t be so rough if the author wasn’t so good at writing realistic characters. The first chapter was the most difficult for me, though: such a grim look at humanity that I felt that the vampires would be a relief. (They weren’t.)
It was both a relief and a bit of a shock to the system when I finally finished it, but it turns out The Passage is just the first in a trilogy. I wasn’t sure my heart could stand it, so I took a break for a week to read my previously reviewed Mycroft Holmes, and then jumped right back in with the second book, The Twelve.
Things…don’t go well in The Twelve. Even though there is a third book due next spring, I wasn’t convinced that anyone was going to survive this one. While some do, humanity itself has gotten even worse, so this book has less of the small hopeful details of the previous book, while it ups the game on the gritty ugliness.
Spoiler/trigger warning: two of the female characters are raped while in what is essentially a vampire-run concentration camp, and I’m just so mad about it. One of the things I was really impressed about in the first book was how nuanced the characters are written, like they were all fully realized and diverse personalities that were not based on gender or racial stereotypes. For instance, one of the fiercest, most militant characters is female, while the male protagonist is empathetic and often naïve. The second book has both surprised and disappointed me by falling into more traditional and one-dimensional characters and plot devices.
Anyway, the second book was rough enough that I thought I probably wouldn’t read the third book when it comes out in the spring, but already, I’m pondering the characters and wondering what will happen next, so I’ll probably jump on The City of Mirrors once it is released.