I know, I know. As usual, I’m one of the last people around to read a much-hyped book. Let me preface this review by saying that this is not the kind of book I normally read, but something in the description and the general good buzz going around about it made me want to try it. And I’m glad I did, as I really liked it (though didn’t love it, more on that later).
The Passage opens in a modern-day setting. Through a series of emails, we learn that a scientific expedition to the Amazon is looking for a mysterious virus that supposedly helps prolong human life. The U.S. military gets involved, seeing the potential of the virus as a super weapon, and begins experimenting on test subjects at a secret underground lab (of course it has to be underground!) Despite their attempts to control the virus, it is set free on the general population and all hell breaks loose, leaving the world forever changed.
The first part of the book focuses on several key characters: Wolgast, an FBI agent who becomes involved with the project; Amy, a six-year-old girl who is abandoned by her mother; and Lacey, an African-born nun who takes Amy in and tries to protect her. Although the premise of the book itself might not have been enough to keep me reading (as I said, it’s not my usual cup of tea), I became attached to the characters pretty quickly. All three have qualities that endear them to the reader, even as they are placed in terrifying situations. I think the fact that I liked these characters so well made the second part of the book harder for me to adjust to, as the story suddenly jumps 100 years into the future and introduces a whole new cast of characters.
The characters of part two live on a compound in California, the first colony. They have been left there by the army as some of the remaining survivors of the viral armageddon. They have no real contact with the outside world, with the exception of occasional “walkers,” lone survivors who show up from time to time looking for the protection of the group. About a hundred people live there, and together they have created their own society adapted to the new circumstances of the world.
As I said, it took me a while to get used to the sudden shift from one part of the book to the next, and I kept getting all the characters that live in the first colony confused. Eventually it gets easier to sort them out, as several of them begin to develop as individuals, but I never got as attached to them as I did to Wolgast, Amy, and Lacey. Luckily, some of these earlier characters do eventually show back up.
I don’t want to give away too many details, but the plot that develops at this point involves the first colony characters trying to connect with the outside world and leaving on a quest to find out what really happened to make the world so screwed up. They don’t exactly get to the point of being able to fix things on a large scale, but I guess Cronin is leaving that for the two remaining books in what is destined to be a trilogy.
There’s a lot of action, and some nice writing on Cronin’s part (except for the total overuse of the first colony expletive ‘flyers!’ If they never use that word again it will be just fine by me). There were a few times when I felt like the plot kind of got away from him and meandered a bit, and other times when it sounded like he was just writing something in because it would make for a good movie–which I have no doubt there will be at some point. I freely admit that I don’t read a lot of science fiction, but I had a hard time swallowing some of the explanations (and lack of explanations) for things that happened. For example:
I could not understand why Jude pops back up in the train after being killed at the arena. First of all, how the heck is he still alive? And even if he’s just seriously injured, how did he get to the train and manage to hide from everyone before they left? Remember how they were racing just to get on it before it left? That part made absolutely no sense to me, and the explanation that sometimes “you can be a viral without being a viral” made no sense, either. It reminded me of a bad movie where you think the bad guy is dead but NO he is jumping up to shoot you in the back. Give me a break!!
—–END OF SPOILER—–
All in all, though, I did really enjoy the book. I liked the way that Cronin wove in supposed “historical” accounts of the first colony and excerpts from the characters’ journals. I hope that in book two–The Twelve, which is schedule to come out in October–we’ll get a better explanation of what exactly some of the characters are and why they’re different and in what ways.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an engrossing read, even those who might not normally appreciate science-fiction. You’ll get caught up in the alternative world the book presents and be swept along by the action-packed plot.
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