The Passage by Justin Cronin is part Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games, part Cormac McCarthy's The Road, part sweeping fantasy epic in the tradition of Tolkien, and part the Bible. This is one ambitious work of fiction. And Cronin's writing lives up to the high bar he's set for himself. Clocking in at more that 17,000 kindle units (that's about 800 pages for you old-school readers), this book has real thud factor; although I guess as a Kindle user that doesn't make any sense since even a book this big weighs only 8.7 ounces.
Cronin is a story teller. His writing is crisp, clean, and descriptive. In fact many moments in the book are almost magical. I loved the scene where soldiers and one of the central characters, Peter, watch the movie Dracula. At this moment in the future, the movie is more than 150 years old, and it's the first movie Peter has ever seen. Cronin brilliantly balances the rowdy soldiers (who've seen this movie so often they know all of the dialogue) with Peter's quiet awe and emotional engagement. It's surprising how Cronin even manages to make the movie relevant to the story he's telling.
While the writing is almost always good, The Passage can get tedious, at least for me who may not be the best critic to read an apocalyptic vampire book, particularly when I'm reading it on the heels of the Hunger Games trilogy. My friend Felix, who read The Passage before me, delighted in confusing me by asking questions like, "Have you gotten to the part where Katniss and Peta (characters from the Hunger Games) fight off the virals at the compound (a plausible moment in The Passage)?" It was confusing because it seemed like a logical plot development in either book.
It can also be tedious when it gets to the endless walking and the driving and the horseback riding. Many of those passages reminded me of The Road, only longer. And you know how I felt about The Road. I'm one of the few people who didn't like it. But being compared to McCarthy isn't necessarily a bad thing. Almost everyone I know liked the book and the critical acclaim for McCarthy's writing should make Cronin feel good about my comparison.
More interesting were the Biblical elements of the story. Yes the endless lists of names in the tradition of so-and-so begot so-and-so could be tedious. But what about the twelve tribes of vampires, scattered across the land. And Amy, the benevolent, eternal entity who is their only hope for departing their painful earthly existences and passing peacefully to a next and better life. Cronin is an ingenious craftsman, and the fact that the story can take on Biblical proportions without becoming preachy is a testament to his talent. I also like that it's a nod to our collective traditions of religious story telling.
That brings me to the ending. Here's where I might get a little bit cynical.
This isn't an ending. In fact, I think I just read an 800 page prologue. Justin Cronin has me right where he wants me. Because I'd like to know how this book ends. And apparently someone forgot to include it in the first printing. Looks like I'll have to buy the next episode. But there damn well better be an ending in that one. Or I will refuse to buy book three as a matter of principle. I joke only slightly. Sure Babcock gets killed and we learn more about the fate of humanity but none of the core stories are resolved in any rewarding way. And after investing in 800 pages, I'd like to walk away without feeling like the ending was MIA.