The Passage by Justin Cronin has everything a good apocalyptic story should have:
- Compelling, unique apocalyptic concept
- Characters you fall in love with
- Grappling with issues of the humane and inhumane
- Great villains that you love to hate
- Philosophical, dramatic and emotional tone
The compelling, unique concept steps away from zombies in this character driven story and instead focuses on the devastating effects of military testing on humans. With the hopes of creating human weapons we instead are treated to a world where hell has been unleashed on the population through the creation of the Twelve. The Twelve are former humans who have been transformed into vampire-like beings and with every attack they transform other humans into an army of apocalyptic proportions – virals.
What I liked about this book is that it didn’t spend too much time on the creation of the virals – just enough to whet your appetite. We are also introduced to Amy (a mysterious little girl who seems to simultaneously hold potential answers to what the virals are and raises more questions) and Wolgast, the man who has sworn to protect her (let me take this moment to say the relationship between Amy and Wolgast is beautifully written).
Suddenly we are launched about a hundred years into the future where we are introduced to a colony of people who are living in a world that seems – empty. The virals have devastated the world and this group of people must survive the darkness, the fear and the violence that the virals can inflict.
And then Amy appears – still the little girl she was a hundred years previous.
I don’t want to reveal any more of the story because it is worth the read – a philosophical, spiritual and action-oriented story all in one. Justin Cronin does an excellent job of creating multidimensional, emotional characters that are magnetic – so much so that when you aren’t reading about them, you are thinking about them, wondering when they are going to appear again. As a reader you journey with a group of people from the colony who are forced to travel miles and miles to find answers, to find hope – led by Amy.
It is a beautiful story about relationships and what we will do for the people we love. It is about the connections of family and that when faced with destruction, family isn’t defined by the blood you share, but by who you will lay your life down for.
It also asks a question that we should all be asking ourselves on a daily basis: what are the consequences of messing with nature? Of playing God? In our quest for power – whether it is through science or technology – we are moving further and further away from what it is to be human. This is what is scary about this story. That there are people “in power” that are making decisions that could go horribly wrong and that it is the rest of the world that will pay. Science in itself is not bad, it becomes bad when the intentions behind the science are tainted by the hunger for power.
There is a fine balance with apocalyptic stories. On one hand you can’t have a story that is too depressing. As a reader, you need to feel there is hope (never mind as a reader, as a human!). Too much violence and gore and it is meaningless. The characters are a fine balance to strike as well. It is easy to fall into stereotypical caricatures in the apocalyptic landscape – the leader, the nerd, the hysterical woman, the asshole. There are no stereotypes in The Passage. All characters – even the virals – have more to them than meets the eye. They express fear, doubt, love, courage and despair all in different ways and at different times. There are men and women alike in this story who are heroes and warriors at different times throughout.
I wish that I could read this story for the first time again. As I read I was delighted to discover a refreshing, impactful and philosophical, apocalyptic horror story that isn’t so much about the horror as it is about the characters.
The Passage is one of three books and while I’m sad that I have to wait a year for the third (I’ve just finished the second book, The Twelve, which I will be reviewing shortly) this story is one that I wish could go on and on (a la The Walking Dead).
If you are a fan of apocalyptic stories you won’t find a better one than this.