Every once in awhile you read a book that you do not want to finish. For me, this is either because the book is so terrible that I cannot will myself to make the end; or because even though I am desperate to know what happens I am so thoroughly enjoying the novel I just do not want it to end.
The Passage - though not flawless - definitely fits into the latter catagory. As readers of this blog will know, I am a big fan of Stephen King's epic The Stand. Cronin, like King, has managed to do what many others have failed to accomplish: he finds a unique voice. Given that you could slot this novel into the crowded "vampire" genre that means something. (Note: Calling this magnificent book a "vampire novel" is like saying Harry Potter is a simplistic children's book)
While I liked most aspects of the novel the one element that stands out is how well Cronin writes. His prose is a staggering achievement in a field which generally praises plot and ideas put forward through wooden dialogue and fake characters. Not so with Cronin who not only builds up his failing world from the expensive gas, destroyed and ruined New Orleans and unending wars in the middle east; all the way through its destruction via a Bolivian virus which transforms death row convicts into vampire-esque Virals.
Cronin builds his world through the eyes of his characters and then provides them with a glimmer of hope before it all falls apart - Amy, who is infected with the virus but does not become a viral, and who just might save the world.
Then Cronin takes a huge risk: he jumps ahead chronologically 92 years. Not many authors, having attached the reader to characters and destruction in such beautiful prose would attempt this, but you have to give him his due for pulling it off. Most novels would fall apart completely at this point and (I must admit) at the beginning of the new section I was a little put off. Then I kept reading. I am very, very glad I did. This is a book that is so much more than just the ideas it puts forth. It is deeply thematic and character driven. These are people who are struggling to be human in the most inhumane of times. Their journey is an incredible tale and well worth taking.
The book is the first of a trilogy and at the end I wanted to read the next installment right away, despite the fact it is probably two years from publication. I do wonder if Cronin can maintain his first effort but time will tell.
This is a fantastic beach read and while it can be a challenging book the reward makes it worthwhile. You will be hard pressed to find a better book this summer.