Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Passage, (Ballantine Books), by Justin Cronin

The Passage is the third novel from award-winning mainstream author Justin Cronin, and the first in a projected trilogy set against the backdrop of America, post vampire-apocalypse.

The first twenty percent or so of the book covers the basics: a little girl abandoned at a convent, a Federal agent with a heart of gold, a gathering of twelve death-row-inmates-turned-guinea-pigs and the aftermath of a jungle expedition that raises more questions than are answered. This section, basically a prologue on steroids, culminates in the escape of an even dozen lethal criminals, all of whom have been deliberately infected with the Beta Test version of an engineered virus that could hold the key to eternal life, from the secret Colorado facility in which they are being held.

Then the blood-drinking starts and the virus spreads.

The second part, comprising the remainder of the novel, is a mind-jarring jump nearly a hundred years into the future. There are still humans, walled up inside a colony (in California, which seceded from the Union following the escape of the Virals), descended from children evacuated by the Army during the death throes of the nation. There's a bare-bones Constitution, a small Parliament-style government, and an existence eked from the scavenged remains of civilization.

When a strange young girl saves Peter Jaxon's life during a mission outside the colony, life inside the walls is disrupted, one of the original Virals incites several of the colonists to murder, and a small group risks everything to explore the origin of a radio signal from Colorado.

Colorado, where everything started.

While the first segment of the book initially seems like it could be pared down, possibly even stripped from the novel and used as bonus material on the publisher's website, by the end of the book what originally seemed like extra padding is absolutely essential to the story.

Cronin stays away from any mention of the `V' word (and truly, these aren't traditional lords of the night), though his Virals do drink blood and are long-lived and nigh-impervious to damage. The Passage reads much like Stephen King when he's being both expansive and good; the allure of the story isn't the Virals at all, but the interaction between Cronin's well-fleshed characters and their richly described world.

Even for those sick to death of vampires, The Passage will prove to be an addicting, and rewarding pleasure, and worth every bit of the hype it's received to date.

Visit Buy it today.

Lincoln Crisler is a United States Army combat veteran and non-commissioned officer and the author of two collections of dark stories, Magick & Misery (2009, Black Bed Sheet) and Despairs & Delights (2008, Arctic Wolf). He lives in Augusta, Georgia with his wife and two of his three children. You can visit his website at

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