Before tackling Cronin’s final book in this trilogy, The City of Mirrors – see my review here – I decided to scoop up The Passage from my teetering TBR pile to ensure I gave the book a fair chance.
Amy Harper Bellafonte is six years old and her mother thinks she’s the most important person in the whole world. She is.
Anthony Carter doesn’t think he could ever be in a worse place than Death Row.
FBI agent Brad Wolgast thinks something beyond imagination is coming.
And there you have the blurb. Very short and terse – which is exactly what this book is not… Coming in at 766 pages and with a punchy, yet often lyrical prose style, this book sprawls across a number of characters in a variety of situations as we see the world unravel due to a scientific investigation going disastrously wrong. Yep. One of those. We’ve all read the scenario. Some arrogant idiot in a white lab coat decides he knows better than everyone else and plays God – and what do you know? It goes wrong… Such stories tend to be long on the gory chaos that ensues and short of characterisation, because – let’s face it, most of the poor souls die anyway, and often not in a good way.
This one is different. Really. Oh yes, there is gory chaos, alright. The world really does go to Hell in a handcart. But Cronin has an uncanny knack of managing to get right to the heart of someone’s character in an amazingly short space of time. His depiction of Amy’s teenage mother near the start of the book is heartbreakingly familiar – and made me really, really care about her. It is that skill he has, for creating characters full of flaws, contradictions, odd motivations – and managing to create lost little Amy without lapsing into sentimentality, which kept me turning the pages.
I’m not a huge fan of horror, or any kind of gory chaos for that matter. I get plenty of nightmares all on my own, without any help from someone else’s apocalyptic vision – it’s part of the reason I don’t sleep all that much. And if I’d appreciated just how bad it was all going to get and just how much mayhem was going to be occur, I probably would have passed on this one. But, once I got started I found I really wanted to know what was going to happen next to Amy and Sara and Peter and Michael and… a whole lot more. Yes, I cared about them all. Cronin wheeled each one on in swift succession and I don’t recall minding about the switches at all. The only really jarring moment came at page 260 when the first section ends and we jump forward 97 years. But I didn’t even really mind about that one, either – because I’d just about had enough of all the gory chaos, by then.
And the reason I’m telling you this? Because I loathe constant jumps from one character to another. I find being yanked about from one viewpoint to another thoroughly messes with my enjoyment of the overall story and makes me care a whole lot less about any of them. But Cronin breaks the rules, switching characters several times in a single page – something I regularly tell my creative writing students is a complete no-no – and pulls it off. If you enjoy apocalyptic science fiction or fantasy, then this is a must-read. And if you don’t generally enjoy all that end of the world stuff, but appreciate well-written books with plenty of adventure and action in them, give it a go. I can guarantee you won’t have read anything before quite like it.