Book Reviews

The Passage by Justin Cronin – A review

I’ve got to admit, I never really planned on picking this book up, but the moment I set eyes on it, I knew I had to read it. With its silver, almost holographic cover design, I couldn’t not pick it up. It wasn’t until I held the book in my hand and felt the weight of its epic 963 pages that I realised just how much of a committment I was getting myself into.

Justin Cronin’s The Passage is an epic sci-fi novel, centring around a devastating plague that begins to take over humanity, turning people into violent, vampire-zombie hybrids with a taste for – you guessed it – blood. Throw in an odd young child with an unknown ‘power’ and a ragtag group of youth with a taste for answers, justice and adventure, and you’ve got yourself a prime sci-fi read. But just how readable is Cronin’s novel?

Well, in all honesty, I have to say, I expected more from this book. The first few hundred pages were incredibly captivating. With a cast of intriguing personalities, each one with a well fleshed-out background, motive and voice. The plot was perfectly comprehendible – although a little wild, but nothing out of the ordinary for a sci-fi epic – and Cronin’s writing was the perfect cross between fast-paced, simple and descriptive.

However, as the book continued, I found myself getting more and more bored with the story. Sure, it had some interesting plot points and settings, but overall I found that the major let-down was the characters. As much as I read on, the less I began to care for each of the characters laid out before me. Although there was the occasional attempt to flesh-out characters, there just wasn’t enough characterisation to pull me in. No matter who the characters were or what was happening, every character seemed to have the same voice, speaking the same tone and using the same words (including a particularly frustrating over-use of the word ‘flyers’ as an expletive). In a novel that clearly outlines its central characters, having different language and personality traits was something that should’ve been vital, but there just didn’t appear to be any attempt at setting the characters appart in any means but their personal interests.

Plot, too, became jumbled the more I read on. Characters were introduced, developed, and then completely disregarded in later chapters. Action scenes were incredibly sudden in comparison to the resting phases of the novel, comprising of a series of long, relatively mundane descriptions, which could easily have been cut from the novel without affecting the story. Not to mention, there was a strange amount of cuts between letters, third-person narrations and military reports. In the end, I found it difficult to tell which character was which, what they were meant to be doing and what the purposes of each of the plot points were.

So, was it worth the read? Well, for me, the novel taught me a very valuable lesson: don’t judge a book by its cover. Sure, if you’re into science fiction and post-apocalyptic drama, I wouldn’t be one to stop you. The premise is interesting and it did drag me along long enough for me to finish the novel. However, if you’re after something with a little more depth and characterisation, I’d probably recommend Stephen King’s similar novel The Stand instead.

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