Tag Archives: apocalyptic science fiction

Review of The Passage – Book 1 of The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin

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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.
He’s wrong.
FBI agent Brad Wolgast thinks something beyond imagination is coming.
It is.

thepassageAnd 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.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The City of Mirrors – Book 3 of The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin

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The hardback edition of this book has recently been released and I’d read a lot of very positive comments about it, so when I had the chance to scoop it up on NetGalley, I couldn’t resist it.

thecityofmirrors“The world we knew is gone. What world will rise in its place?”
The Twelve have been destroyed and the hundred-year reign of darkness that descended upon the world has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew and daring to dream of a hopeful future. But far from them, in a dead metropolis, he waits: Zero. The First. Father of the Twelve. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy – humanity’s only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him. One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate.

A firm warning – while there is a quick roundup at the start of this book, I do think that if you haven’t read either The Passage or The Twelve you are going to flounder. This book dives right into the middle of the action, featuring an extensive cast of characters and drives the narrative forward by flipping from one character’s pov to another with only a paragraph break to denote the viewpoint change. It means you have to stay sharp and pay attention. And I wouldn’t want to grapple with who was whom if I hadn’t already just finished The Passage immediately before starting to read The City of Mirrors.

Apart from anything else, this series is such an interestingly different take on the apocalyptic genre, you’ll gain so much more from this slice of the adventure if you have a greater appreciation of what went before. Cronin whisks us up and changes gear once more – the only common thread being a handful of the main characters as the threat of the dracs or virals appear to be gone for good. Humanity in North America is once more spreading out from the floodlight fortresses where they’d been penned up and families are yearning to farm, instead of patrol with weapons.
However, a handful of folk are not convinced it’s all over… The tension is palpable from the beginning of this book and continues to grow. We follow the fortunes of Amy, Fanning and Carter – as well as the Jaxon family and their friends. Cronin is a remarkable writer, managing to weave lyrical passages about the landscape, their way of life, the sense that it’s not over in amongst the ever-rising action. This book also gives us a sustained close encounter in first person viewpoint with the ultimate antagonist in this catastrophe – Fanning. I found myself enjoying his self-deprecating humour and sad that his lack of confidence prevented him from reaching out for the love of his life when he had a chance. This is a masterclass in how to humanise the inhumane and make the reader sympathise with a monster.

I was all set to give this book an unqualified 10 – and then we got to the final section. It simply doesn’t work for me. I was disturbed by how very 21st century life is, right down to motorised transport and dress codes although clearly very little has survived from before the apocalypse. And when we got to the very final act… nope. For once, I felt Cronin allowed his affection for his remarkable character override the natural story arc as it slid into a rather sentimental finale. That said, I’ll forgive him that. Because of the very episodic nature of the story, the unsatisfying conclusion isn’t the dealbreaker it would have been in a continuous narrative timeline. It is still a remarkable book and if you enjoy apocalyptic fiction and haven’t yet encountered this series, go and track down The Passage. Even if you aren’t all that keen on apocalyptic fiction, but like well-told science fiction, then still track down The Passage. This series is something special.
9/10