I have been enthralled by vampires for as long as I can remember, so when I heard that there was a new vampire novel set in a post apocalyptic world, I had to download and read it immediately. Having just finished the 700+ page tome last night, I can honestly say that 2012 cannot come quick enough for the next installment of this promised trilogy to arrive. The Passage by Justin Cronin is a world complete, and not one I am terribly interested in visiting any time soon.
The novel opens in a world in which the US seems to have given in to its worst fears of terrorism, allowing Big Brother and the military free reign. The Gulf of Mexico is a toxic cesspool of oil and other hazardous chemicals to boot. In other words, the world is pretty bleak at the start, and this is the Time Before, the days people will harken back to longingly.
In the midst of this growing tragedy comes the military on a quest to build some type of biological weapon. This new weapon is being developed from a strain of a vampire virus from the jungles of Bolivia. Combine this virus with twelve death row inmates in the petri dish of a secret military installation deep in the mountains of Colorado and you have the perfect recipe to end the world as we know it. When the creatures escape, they begin to ravage the country (and possibly the world).
These are not your average vampires of legend. They are not ancient and sexy Iike Anne Rice's vampires, and they certainly are not wealthy and aristocratic like Bram Stoker's Count. These are viral monsters whose blood lust lends itself to rage and destruction with a biological imperative to reproduce by turning one in every ten victims into a new monster, creating as many as maybe 40 million virals.
In the midst of this apocalyptic tale of annihilation, is Amy, a child infected with the same deadly virus, but some how different. Though no longer human, she is not a viral either. Only six years old, and Amy is somehow key to Project NOAH, whatever that is. In addition to the child Amy are the other children the army tries to save, evacuating them to a safe place in the California desert. When no one returns for the children and their watchers, they create the Colony and survive, if only just barely. From here will come the adventurers a century after the original catastrophe, who will attempt to help Amy find her way home.
Cronin creates a textured world of fully formed characters who you want to know better. When they are fearful, so are you. Though I have never been a fan of the third person omniscient narrator, to tell this tale Cronin has little choice. His innovative use of diary entries presented at an academic conference a millennium hence as well as emails and military records helps to keep the narrative fresh.
Though there were moments when I asked myself if I really needed the detailed description of the malodorous old blind man Elton who refused to bathe for days on end, I think it was worth suffering through a few overwrought descriptions of minor characters for the sake of a story of hope after the apocalypse.
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