In anticipation of the final book in Justin Cronin’s The Passage trilogy, The City of Mirrors (May 24th), bookseller Sarah H. revisits the first two bestselling books. Justin Cronin will be at BookPeople on June 11th at 6pm!
When Justin Cronin’s The Passage was released in 2010, I only took notice because of the ravings that kept appearing on my Facebook feed. Every few months one of my friends would lose their mind over it, and I, always being slow to join any popular culture movement, finally gave in after three of my closer friends kept pushing it on me. And then, in short order, I lost my mind over it as well. Back then I was still working in the service industry and would usually go out for a drink or two before coming home around bar-thirty. But The Passage is one of those books you kind of adjust your life around, in order to get back to it as quickly as you can. I started going home immediately after work and staying up for hours, a few times past 5am because I couldn’t put the cursed thing down. I would look at the clock and say this chapter is the last one, then to sleep. And at every chapter ending I just. couldn’t. set. it. down. I had to know what happened next. Cronin has somehow transformed chapter cliffhangers into a sleep robbing, anxiety inducing art form. If you can imagine binge watching LOST, and I know many of you can because you’ve done it, reading this book for the first time was a lot like that.
Upon learning the final book in the trilogy, The City of Mirrors, was finally coming out this May (seriously, waiting for this book has been an exercise in patience fans of Patrick Rothfuss and George R.R. Martin fans can relate to), I decided I had to go back and reread the first two. I remembered how much I loved reading them, but found there was much I couldn’t remember since it had been so long. This series has a lot of characters and I knew I wouldn’t get the level of enjoyment out of the third book that I got out of the first two if I didn’t completely dive back into the world headfirst and live it all over again.
Without giving too much away, this book is about a government created virus that essentially turns its test subjects into something like vampires in that they are bloodsuckers that can’t be out in the sunlight, are super strong with crazy teeth, and spread the virus through their bite. There is more to it, of course, but that’s the gist. Of course, the military wanted to make super soldiers with the virus, but they couldn’t contain it and humankind as we know it ends. This is essentially the prologue of the book, which as far as prologues go is quite long (about 200 pages). But don’t let that deter you. It’s written at a breakneck pace and introduces you to Cronin’s style, which is heavy on the internal lives of its characters but balanced well with lots of action. It also introduces you to the character who is the focus of the story, a girl named Amy, and why she is so important.
This prologue gives you the set up and then jumps to Act I, nearly 100 years into the future at First Colony in California – a walled in colony of around one hundred souls who are the descendants of some of the survivors of the initial outbreak. They are completely isolated and have no means of communicating with the outside world. As far as they know they are the only colony of survivors left in the whole world (a thought that has been taking a psychological toll on many of them). Their compound is surrounded by flood lights that go on at dusk to keep the infected away, but their century year old batteries, that get charged by a nearby wind farm, are failing. And then Amy comes to them, seemingly out of nowhere. In fact, they call her The Girl From Nowhere. And with her comes the possibility that there are others out there, still alive. Between these two events, and a few others I won’t discuss here, it’s as if fate is trying to tell the colonists something. From here the story becomes something of an apocalyptic road trip novel, as a rag tag group of colonists travel through death valley and over the mountains to where the outbreak began in Colorado, catching a few breaks along the way, and discovering some very disquieting things about the true nature of the viral infection.
In reading this the second time I came to see that this book is more about its characters than its action (though there is plenty of action, especially in the first half). In fact, I’d say this book IS its characters. You experience the world so wholly through their eyes, their memories, their emotions, their fears, their hopes, their dreams (both the colonists and the infected – everyone). Through the characters’ inner lives Cronin develops the themes of friendship, loyalty, bravery, injustice, rebellion against authority and commitment to doing what is right. Cronin is masterful at this. In fact I think this is the book’s greatest strength. Yes, it has a strong plot, great action and a fun premise, but what kept me reading through its 748 pages was the fact that I cared about the characters so much. Their triumphs were sweeter and losses more tragic because of how deeply I knew them. And I’m not going to lie – a lot of these people Mr. Cronin made me care about so much die. Though sometimes they just disappear. There are plenty of mysterious happenings in The Passage that are planted early and come to fruition later. And while the second half of the book isn’t as jam packed full of excitement as the first half, Act 2 and 3 both serve the story and have their own unique feel about them. It’s as if right when you feel like you’re about to run out of gas, the book is over. And I can’t help but think it was meant to feel that way. By the time I was done with the book I was almost as exhausted as the characters were and was happy to have time to take a nap.
Stay tuned for my thoughts on the second book in The Passage trilogy, The Twelve.