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The Passage (Passage Trilogy Series #1)

The Passage - Justin Cronin If you don't count audiobooks, this is one of the the longest books I have ever read. At first I thought that The Fountainhead was longer, but it only seemed that way because Ayn Rand is kind of a terrible writer and there aren't any parts where Dominique Francon is beset upon by a swarm of vampires (unfortunately). Justin Cronin is not a terrible writer, in fact he's most often a very good writer, and this book has lots and lots of scenes with vampires. Lots and lots because it is so very long and it is just the first book in a trilogy, of course, because everything these days is a Series which is why I hardly ever read any YA fiction, because everyone wants to be the next J.K. Rowling.Except Cronin actually wants to be the next, I don't know, Stephen King, if this book is anything to go by. It won't remind you a lot of The Stand just because both are post-apocalyptic thrillers that detail at length the efforts of the last survivors of a worldwide plague on a quest to save humanity, but because both writers prefer a curious blend of horror and soap opera, tense action and slightly clumsy spirituality (aside on the length issue: I confess I haven't actually read The Stand, which is probably just about as long as Book One of The Passage Whatever-ilogy, but I saw the mini-series and have read enough of Wikipedia and The Dark Tower to get the gist). Oh but where I was going with this point was Cronin is a better writer than King, at least when it comes to tension and characters and dialogue and detail, certainly far less exasperatingly crude (Stevie always relishes his sick sense of humor a little too much. If this was a Stephen King book, when the people transformed into vampires, he'd spend a paragraph talking about how their intestines would let loose and splatter the ground with shit, and then someone would make a fart joke).But this book: it is mostly pretty awesome, and it held my interest all the way through. The first section is the most fascinating, a slow burn build to the release of the plague upon humanity, slowly developing characters in a manner reminiscent of linked short stories. Ultimately this level of attention to ultimately disposable characters (spoiler alert: not everyone is going to survive your apocalypse, even when it happens on page 256) is probably unnecessary, but it's so well done you'll just keep reading. The big leap for readers, and for the narrative, takes us 100 years into the future, and suddenly we're into some heavy world building as we examine the last vestiges of society that have managed to endure. Here the book does slow down considerably, lingering for about 200 pages in this last outpost of humanity, and again, it would probably be a little boring if it didn't do such a good job of making most everyone so interesting. Which is a relief, since they could just as easily have been cardboard cutouts in a book more concerned with plot; certainly they're archetypes, but Cronin is more interested in using the apocalypse to explore human nature than to, uh, revel in vampire nature. When the story really kicks in is page 477, which is kind of astounding, and a lot happens in those last 300 pages, enough action that you really appreciate all the character development that came before, because it makes the suspense sequences that much more intense, and you really don't want anyone to die. But some of them will, though nearly not enough, because there are a few too many GOTCHA!s, when you are sure everyone is safe and then someone dies! Oh but wait, they are somehow fine a few pages later. But then someone really does die! So you're kept on your toes but really, you get the sense that no one you really care about is going anywhere, at least until the climax of the next book (i.e. The Dumbledore Gambit). If you've seen a lot of genre movies you'll probably anticipate some of this stuff, though I admit I usually didn't catch on until after the fact, and then I'd just shake my head; yes, he went there, but he managed to fool me into following him, and that takes some skill.I should probably have avoided calling this a vampire book (the book is indifferent, preferring more often: smokes, virals, even dracs, wink wink) because they aren't, and it takes quite a while but when you finally realize what Cronin is doing with his take on the mythos, it opens up a lot of possibilities for the next two books. I'll be reading them. Sigh.