Book review: The Passage

Justin Cronin’s The Passage.

Author: Justin Cronin
Publisher: Orion

Let’s get the size issue out of the way first. The Passage is a pretty big book, clocking in at 766 pages in the hardback version, but it’s not the longest you’ll ever read.

The story, briefly, is as follows. The US Army is running experiments on death row inmates to create super soldiers, using a vampire serum. It all goes wrong, civilisation ends, the book jumps forward 90-odd years to the aftermath, then again. It’s too detailed to fully describe in the space accorded to a half page review, and this is both its greatest strength and its biggest weakness.

Cronin’s sprawling epic, the first part of a trilogy we’re led to believe, is insanely elaborate, with a huge amount of thought given to the world. It’s immersive, nuanced and splendid (in a terrifying way) – it draws you in and refuses to let you go. It also, unfortunately, is a bit preponderous in places, such as the lengthy account of Philadelphia’s evacuation or the frequent supplementary material to the narrative that breaks the flow. Indeed it could be three books, as the pace changes so drastically between the time periods that you often feel as if you’re reading a different novel entirely.

What rescues the tale and sustains it throughout is Cronin’s deft hand, however. He writes in a way that’s quite simply a pleasure to read, as words flow into descriptive sentences, punctuated by dialogue and stirred by metaphor. His characterisation could use some work, but overall, there’s not too much in the way of style to pick apart. It’s easy to see why this novel has been gaining such popular momentum – Ridley Scott has optioned the rights already – but it can be a difficult one to finish if, like us, you have several books on the go at once. Concentrate on this and it will reward you, if not bowl you over entirely.

[isbn name=”The Passage”]978-0752897844[/isbn]