A Belated Review of The Passage

The Passage by Justin Cronin is a novel that starts off incredibly strong and then hits a brickwall due to a bold leap in the plot that in my ever humble opinion doesn't work. I had to "quit" the book for a while, and only after a hiatus was I able to return to it. It was a chore to finish, but the ending definitely had some redeeming moments, so I'm glad I persevered.

The beginning of the story is really compelling with some truly unforgettable characters -- Amy, a mysterious little girl hunted down by covert operatives; Wolgast, a Federal agent who rejects his orders and tries to protect Amy; Babcock, one of twelve death row inmates who are used as guinea pigs in a scientific project that transforms them into dangerous vampiric creatures; and Carter, another of the Twelve, but who was innocent of the crime that landed him on death row and feels remorse as the virus turns him into a monster.

I fell in love with these characters, so it was a complete shock when a quarter of the way through the story, the author decided to leap his plot almost a hundred years into the future.  The characters with whom I had connected, the "world" that had gripped my attention, was suddenly and inexplicably replaced by a postapocalyptic colony inhabited by a long string of new characters. Try as I might, I could no longer care about what happened.

I had invested so much in the story so far and I wanted to see it through to its conclusion, but after a while I had to take a break.  So many critics were raving about this book and what a literary genius Justin Cronin was -- I certainly was hooked by the premise of the novel and the near perfectly written first 250 pages, but it seemed as if I was reading a completely different story, one that was far less interesting than the first part.

Cronin used different styles and techniques in the beginning, each chapter had a different tone and perspective, so I thought maybe the "leap in time" might be a short-lived plot point and we would see more of a focus on Amy and Babcock, but I was disheartened to realize that the plot would now be primarily about the colonists Peter, Alicia, Sara, Theo, Circuit, Maus, Sanjay, and the rest, all of whom I could barely keep track.

There were moments of great action and some fascinating ideas about surviving in a world ravished by a virus, but those moments were often buried in lengthy sections of boring exposition, pointless dialogue, or just meaningless asides that didn't move the plot forward at all.

The ending managed to salvage some of the potential from the start of the story, thanks mainly to the return to prominence of some of the earlier characters. The mammoth saga will continue in two additional novels -- The Twelve and The City of Mirrors.  I hope Cronin will give us some of the excellence he showed in the the beginning of The Passage and will have learned from the mistakes that bogged it down. It has also been optioned to be made into a movie -- let's hope it can be streamlined into something entertaining with all the filler moments left on the cutting room floor, or better yet never filmed in the first place.

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