Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Book Review: The Passage

The Passage by Justin Cronin
Kindle Version

I can safely say that "The Passage" was not what I expected it to be. With a literary language throughout, and a long opening (that I thought was the main story), it consistently turns your assumptions into a pile of dust. Which is appropriate for a book about a plague of "sort-of-vampires-but-we-don't-call-them-that-much".

Opening with glimpses into apparently unconnected people's lives, Cronin's literary fiction history comes through in his colourful and at times extensive descriptions and vignettes about these people's lives. From a man on death-row, to a woman's life and struggles to be a good mother to her daughter, it was really hard to work out where this was all going. I wasn't sure about the extensive forays into these lives but the language and intriguing nature of the characters kept me going. We meet Amy, a young girl who is far more than she seems. Wolgast, a secret service agent tasked with picking up men condemned to death and convincing them to take part in experiments, with the reward of their sentence being suspended. Carter, one of those men on death-row, and his reminiscing over his life and how he ended up where he is. Lacey, a nun who doesn't fit in with her fellow sisters who by pure chance finds Amy in her care. Except it isn't chance; nothing in The Passage is chance. Fate and belief play a huge role in this tale. And that's even more the case when over a quarter of the way into the story everything changes entirely and moves over 100 years into the future...

To say too much about The Passage would be to destroy some of its strongest appeal. The shift in narrative took me by complete surprise and in fact elevated a book from a (as I thought at the time) a poor man's version of The Stand, to a unique and highly enjoyable epic thriller that plays with your expectations at every turn. The characters are well developed and very greatly form one person to another. There were stereotypes throughout (the wise old lady, the warrior young woman, the callous secret service) but at no time did it make the story less enjoyable. These characters have histories, motivations and fears, all of which makes them fascinating to read about. Amy especially is an intriguing character, mainly down to how little is revealed about her from her perspective. Instead it's every one elses impressions and thoughts about her that colour her in and make her a strong lynchpin of the whole saga.

Throughout this tale the reader's attention is demanded - if you let it slip for even a moment you will be lost. With a huge scale and a large cast it's easy to lose the thread of the story. The literary style adds to this, as it lengthens an already pretty lengthy adventure. Though I don't read literary fiction much I have to say it didn't bother me, and in fact brought a lot of the scenes to life in a way that a trimmed down version likely wouldn't have. It also seemed appropriate, for a book that breaks in the middle to make up two disparate but linked stories, to have that as a constant.

If you haven't caught The Passage yet I highly recommend it. It's a long book, it has more than a passing similarity to The Stand (including the length) and it is the first in a trilogy, so those put off by those things will likely find little to inspire them. But if none of that daunts you then The Passage is a great read - I can't wait to start the second book as soon as possible.

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