I remember clearly the first time that I saw the book for sale and the black and white face of the young girl on the front cover. Intrigued I browsed the book and on seeing it was about vampires (well, okay, he calls them “virals”) put it back.
However, it never really left my memory, and when the opportunity came to download the audio book, well, I took it. Strangely, shortly after this point I had a bad eye infection and was consigned to immobility for a couple of days. So a great opportunity to listen and remember this unabridged recording is 36 hours long.
The theme is similar to Stephen King’s The Stand as well as Swan Song from Robert McCammon. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that they are the same.
So what is the book like?
Long, very long and in parts it does seem to droop a little. However, this is only a minor point, and I guess difficult to avoid.
The early chapters were read in a very droll and depressed voice. This made it quite hard to listen to, but I stuck with it. After a while I am not sure if I just got used to it or the reading improved.
One thing which quickly became apparent is that the author has a knack of introducing good characters, setting you up for a great story line — and then the plots are sidelined. Very frustrating, but I suspect that some of the promising ones will be developed in the follow up book.
I love books about the country, road trips, tales of the countryside with the writing being so good that you can imagine yourself walking the same roads. The Stand does this brilliantly. The Passage, well, just seems to pass through the countryside. Cronin might well be able to write a good page turner, but there is precious little real description of the world outside the immediate discussions.
The first third of the book leads up to the virus being released. There is tension, fear, and it builds well. You think that you know where the story is going, but don’t make this mistake, you just can’t make assumptions here. It seems as if Cronin is building up the young girl, Amy, into a character similar to the one used in Swan Song or indeed Firestarter (Stephen King, again). But this isn’t to be.
For the second third we are moved 100 years or so into the future, and essentially you have a small colony of founding fathers stuck out in the wilderness and surrounded by enemies. Sounds familiar? Well, the symbolism just goes on with 12 virals and a master viral as well. The pace is slower, but you do get a chance to really get to know the characters and to fit into their world. Some reviewers thought this part of the book was too slow, but for me it was just riveting.
The third part of the book involves a group of survivors tracking down and killing one of the main virals. At this point I was longing to hear what had happened to the rest of the country. I wanted to escape from the claustrophobia of the colony and to explore America. You do get some of this, but at the end of it I just reckon that travel scenes are not part of Cronin’s plans.
Over the last twelve months I have often thought of the stories told within the book. Some of the strands are very good, and to me the book has a quite terrifying section where a train full of children leaves Philadelphia for the safety of the west coast. But it has to survive attacks from the virals. Basically if a carriage is breached then that carriage and all the ones behind have to be jettisoned along with all the children in the train. Cynically, I would say this was written for the movie, but it is a damn good image.
How can I best sum it up?
Long, rambling, frustrating, addictive, terrifying, all these words and more.
Will I buy the follow up? You bet.