book one of The Passage Trilogy
The Passage begins with a thorough history of the early life of the books’ main character, Amy Harper Bellefonte, whose full name is lost to the ages before very long. She is born to a loving mother who falls onto hard times and then is forced to leave Amy with a houseful of nuns, and it is sister Lacey who discovers Amy’s supernatural side. This is only the very beginning of a very long and often sad journey, and author Justin Cronin is good at wringing pathos out of everyone’s tale. The Passage is like a book by a more literate Stephen King without the emotional garbage polluting the story.
Amy is taken from the nuns’ house by FBI agent Wolgast, who will break your heart even more. It is through Wolgast that we are introduced to the military grade, sociopathic test tube vampires that populate the world in a thorough holocaust. The first third of the book is deeply character driven with long, detailed introductions and bios, even for minor characters who die or disappear three pages later, including Carter, one of the twelve original vampires. We learn that his terrible, sad secret is that he is not a murderer. We read intimate details of the characters’ psyche and understand their actions exactly. Except for Amy. Though we know her history we don’t know her, only the events that happen to and around her and how everyone reacts to them around her.
And then, “It happened fast, thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.” The Passage is more like three distinct novels under one cover. The first is the story of a girl who doesn’t age, followed by one about a girl who does. The second part introduces a colony of human survivors a hundred years after the fall, and it’s a jumble of new names and faces and speech patterns and social customs, and even knowing how their world began you’ll be a little dazed until things come into focus.
Cronin is also good at making you feel the heavy weight of time, how it speeds past and takes forever at once. As a reader you have to be capable of letting people go, of not being overcome by how thoroughly our world has ended and is so completely forgotten.
There are a couple of logics errors that bugged me when I first read The Passage. One is why the gubbmint decided to continue with its plan to use Amy as a test subject after her name is smeared everywhere with an amber alert when the plan was for subterfuge and secrecy. Another is how, even after a hundred years, people can still eat canned food meant for us. And after a hundred years of scrounging, how are there any cans left anyway? And darned if Cronin doesn’t go for the guy thing. You know, car chase scene? Like a dog with a bone, guys and car chase scenes. smh
I read this book when it was new in 2010 and then had to wait and wait for the next in the series, The Twelve. It was a long, painful wait. Not George R.R. Martin long, but after the shocking last sentence of The Passage, I was ready to dig into the next book. So, if you do decide to read this series (The Twelve review next week), be grateful you can get all of them at once. And then give yourself a couple of weeks to read it before seeing the film, still “in development”. That means it may or may not be actually filmed but someone bought the rights. This is one time I hope a series dies in development because I can’t imagine anyone coming close to getting it right on film.
For a long, cold winter’s week away from school or the office, The Passage trilogy will enfold you in a long journey past the violent fate of humanity today. Sometimes languid, other times careering through the lives of many characters you will come to love before they’re lost, The Passage is a well written excursion into the apocalypse that I recommend you travel.