Friday, February 03, 2017

The Passage Trilogy, Justin Cronin

I have a rule about audiobooks. If I am going to spend the money to purchase them, I need to get the most hours for my money. Most of my audiobook purchases are epic fantasy novels like Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series, or long historical fiction, a la Ken Follett's Kingsbridge series. This also allows me to get looooong books read on otherwise "dead" time-when I am driving. This frees up my actual reading time for shorter novels that help me make my Goodreads goal (I know, I know...I might have a problem).

I recently read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (review to come, I promise), and one of the things she shares in the afterword is the title of a novel that she made passing reference to within the context of her story. To be honest, I don't even remember the reference from Station Eleven, but I was so in love with that book that I figured if she liked it, surely I would too.

The book she mentioned was The Passage by Justin Cronin. Now, I had heard of the book before. Anyone who reads as much horror and supernatural fiction as I do can't help but run into the title, and I figured the fact that I even read the afterword of Mandel's book (I'm not so good about reading the forewords and endnotes of the novels I read. Mea culpa), was the universe's way of telling me it was time.

I'm always up for a new take on vampires (and werewolves and zombies and other creatures of the night), and Cronin's vision is at once completely new and utterly familiar. In the world of The Passage, a virus created by the US government (because who else) in an effort to create a super-soldier has been given to twelve convicted murderers living on death row (because expendable). When a mysterious event destroys the compound where the once-human-now-something-else creatures were kept, the "virals", as they came to be known, are unleashed upon an unsuspecting world (because of course), and quickly decimate the population, turning millions of people into blood-sucking monsters who prey on anything with a pulse.

The first book jumps back and forth between the time when the virals were being created, and a time about 100 years later, when what is left of humanity is dealing with the aftermath. Because the virus gives its hosts immortality, some of the characters overlap. There is a mysterious girl who was given a version of the virus that somehow did not turn her into a monster, the man who tries to save her, a nun who's life is unnaturally extended through some mystical force that never really becomes clear, a group of brave souls who strike out across the empty landscape to find help for their dying community, and lots and lots and lots of vampires.

Cronin has woven an intricate story of human connection and intense action. There are themes of love and family and faith and oppression, with sympathetic figures on both sides of the fight. Cronin's writing is full of beautiful, terrifying imagery, to the point that occasionally I want him to stop using so many words already and get on with it. But it's not because the words are unnecessary, like I feel with some authors <cough> Anne Rice <cough>, but because he's created such a compeling story that I can't wait to find out what comes next. I suppose if I was reading rather than listening to the books, I'd probably be skipping those long descriptions in favor of getting to the action, and I would surely be missing out.

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