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Old 19th April 2010, 12:54 PM   #1 (permalink)
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The Passage by Justin Cronin - the $5 million novel

The year is 2017. The USA is still embroiled in foreign military adventures, New Orleans has turned into a toxic wasteland and Blu-Ray has only just manged to become the dominant entertainment storage medium. A six-year-old girl, Amy Belafonte, is abandoned at a convent by her struggling mother. One of the nuns, Lacey, a former refugee from a war in Africa, realises that something is amiss with Amy, and that she is more than she first appears.

The United States government agrees. In the mountains of Colorado they have established Project Noah, an attempt to develop immortality ("So all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years,") using twelve death row inmates as guinea pigs. The final stage of the experiment requires the use of a young child, so the directors send FBI Agent Wolgast to collect Amy. But the experiment has gone catastrophically wrong, and whilst the first twelve experimental subjects have indeed become immortal, they have also become something else, something that cannot be contained.

Ninety years later, a teenage girl arrives out of the blue at one of the last bastions of civilised humanity in the world, a fortified town in California. Her arrival triggers a dangerous cross-country journey back to the source of the infection, and a series of revelations about the true nature of the threat they face, and how to combat it.

The Passage is still months away from publication, but is already a major success story. The publishing rights for the book and its two sequels were sold for $3.5 million, whilst the film rights were purchased by Ridley Scott's company for a cool $1.5 million for the first book by itself. Based on the book, this is understandable: I have rarely read a book that screams "Blockbuster hit!" as loudly as The Passage. Unusually, however, the book combines its mass commercial appeal with an impressive intelligence and a much stronger writing style than might be expected from a big horror novel (the Stephen King cover quote helps as well). The fact that the 'main' publishers rather than their SF&F imprints are publishing the book is also a sign that they are taking this book very seriously.

The Passage is an evocative novel that borrows and combines styles from other sources to terrific effect. The first third of the novel, in which the virus is released and civilisation falls, is reminiscent of the brilliant opening half of Stephen King's The Stand (although, unlike The Stand, Cronin doesn't badly fumble the ending). We then move ninety years further on to a world of crumbling freeways, unstable overpasses and weed-choked ruins which is much more in the vein of Cormac McCarthy's The Road (albeit nowhere near as sparse). We then get some thrilling battle scenes between humans and 'virals' set in a shopping mall and the surrounding countryside which is much more in the vein of the Fallout computer games (and possibly Dawn of the Dead), whilst the idea of humanity cowering behind walls from the threat beyond recalls Carrie Ryan's recent novel The Forest of Hands and Teeth and its sequel. Yet the book never feels derivative, more playing with the tropes of the post-apocalyptic horror genre in interesting and original ways.

The novel has its own rhythm and cadence, based around rich descriptions of the environment and strong characterisation. The structure of the novel is also successful, with the first third forming an effective prologue to the remaining post-apocalyptic sequence. Initially this move appeared unwise, with Cronin abandoning the well-described situation and memorable characters of the opening of the book to start over from scratch, but the new situation and characters are just as effective, if not moreso (especially Alicia, a devastatingly effective viral hunter, and our main protagonist Peter). This does represent a shift in the pacing, with the first 250 pages rocketing by like a page-turning thriller, whilst the next sequence is more relaxed, but this is necessary to establish the new characters and situation. Then, once the journey into the unknown begins, the pacing and tension ratchet up again. In this latter sequence Cronin gives us a series of episodic adventures, such as the travellers stopping at another settlement built around a ruined prison where nothing is as it seems and a terror-filled journey across Las Vegas, which would make memorable horror novels by themselves, but here are merely smaller parts of a much greater whole.

The novel is but the first part of a trilogy, so whilst the book has definitive end-point and a series of compelling revelations about the setting and the world, there is also something of a cliffhanger ending which we will have to wait some time to see resolved (given it took the author over three years to write this first book, I assume the second is still a while off), which is just about the only negative thing about the book I can think of. Otherwise this is a page-turning, compulsive read.

The Passage (*****) is a superbly-written, well-paced and convincingly-characterised novel where the situation and characters remain in the imagination long after it is finished. This could be the start of something major indeed. The novel will be published on 8 June 2010 in the USA and on 24 June in the UK.
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Old 19th April 2010, 01:18 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: The Passage by Justin Cronin - the $5 million novel

Thanks for the heads up....I'll keep an eye out for it...
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Old 25th April 2010, 12:16 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: The Passage by Justin Cronin - the $5 million novel

Quote:
Originally Posted by Werthead View Post
The year is 2017 [...] and Blu-Ray has only just manged to become the dominant entertainment storage medium.


Quote:
The Passage is still months away from publication, but is already a major success story. The publishing rights for the book and its two sequels were sold for $3.5 million, whilst the film rights were purchased by Ridley Scott's company for a cool $1.5 million for the first book by itself.
Wow! That's insane. Well done, Mr. Cronin.

By the way, may I ask how you managed to get your hands on book that won't be out for another couple of months? Especially a book that, judging by the advance, is supposed to be a pretty big deal? Do you know the author? Or are you a professional critic, and so received an advance copy?


P.S. If that question is too personal, feel free to ignore me.
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Old 25th April 2010, 12:34 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: The Passage by Justin Cronin - the $5 million novel

That book sounds really great. I'm adding it to my 'Books to Buy' list, though it seems it won't be out until July in Australia.

I also would like to know how you managed to get a copy in advance (again, if you don't mind telling us).
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Old 28th April 2010, 07:32 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: The Passage by Justin Cronin - the $5 million novel

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Originally Posted by Devil's Advocate View Post
By the way, may I ask how you managed to get your hands on book that won't be out for another couple of months? Especially a book that, judging by the advance, is supposed to be a pretty big deal? Do you know the author? Or are you a professional critic, and so received an advance copy?

P.S. If that question is too personal, feel free to ignore me.
I have a blog review site, so get advance reader's copies. In fact, I received the ARC before the end of last year, I think it was November some time, and a number of other websites have already posted reviews some time ago. The author is also deep into the writing of the second volume, having finished the first a fair time ago now.
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Old 13th June 2011, 12:55 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Re: The Passage by Justin Cronin - the $5 million novel

reading it now and have to say I'm very imressed
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Old 14th June 2011, 07:00 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Re: The Passage by Justin Cronin - the $5 million novel

I read this last year and found it a brilliant read. I never realised that it was the first in a trilogy. Best news I have heard in a long time.
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Old 16th June 2011, 11:38 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Re: The Passage by Justin Cronin - the $5 million novel

Must be good - it's one of very few novels to give me a bad dream!

The last one to do this that I recall was Salem's Lot
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Old 18th June 2011, 03:35 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Re: The Passage by Justin Cronin - the $5 million novel

It just came out in paperback. The UK paperback has a sample chapter for the next book, The Twelve, due out in mid-2012 I believe.
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Old 15th July 2011, 08:57 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Re: The Passage by Justin Cronin - the $5 million novel

about 2 thirds of the way through now and it just keeps getting better. This is by far and away one of the best books I've read in a very long time.
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Old 4th November 2012, 12:17 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Re: The Passage by Justin Cronin - the $5 million novel

The Twelve

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The early years of the 22nd Century. North America is crawling with 'virals', creatures of superior strength and stamina who feed on human blood and flesh. Most are unintelligent, but they are controlled by 'the Twelve', the original death-row inmates who were experimented upon to create the virals. Standing against them is Amy, the Girl From Nowhere, and her allies, a military force based in Texas.

The death of one of the Twelve has also resulted in the destruction of the virals he created. This reveals the path to victory and survival: kill the Twelve and end the viral threat forever. But this is easier said than done. After five years of failed assassinations the military are ready to abandon the mission, and only one last attempt can be made.

With millions of copies sold, translations in forty languages published and the film rights bought for a very high amount, The Passage was one of the biggest success stories of 2010. The Twelve is the direct sequel and the middle volume of a proposed trilogy (the final volume, City of Mirrors, is due in 2014). However, Cronin has gone to some lengths to try to avoid 'middle volume syndrome' by giving the book a number of self-contained narratives and character arcs whilst also continuing the story of Peter, Alicia, Amy and the other survivors of the First Colony and their war against the Twelve.

The Twelve contains much of the same that made The Passage a good book: good characterisation, evocative descriptions and a rich atmosphere. It improves on it in several areas as well. It's a notably shorter (by some 200 pages), more concise and more focused book with every chapter building up to the conclusion. The Twelve does repeat The Passage's structure of having an opening section (in this case the first third of the novel) depicting the fall of civilisation before moving to the post-apocalyptic 'present day'. There are numerous self-contained stories in this section which are compelling reads, but initially appear a little disconnected from the post-apocalyptic storyline. However, Cronin eventually loops most of these storylines back to the main story and explains their relevance.

The biggest problem The Twelve faces, which is much more present than The Passage, is that of adhering to the traditional post-apocalyptic, 'big showdown' type of storyline whilst trying to surprise a reader familiar with the rules and tropes of such storylines. Now the rules of this particular type of vampire/zombie story have been set, Cronin shows a surprising inability to surprise or startle the reader any more. Things proceed pretty much as you might expect them to: some reversals, a few capture-and-escape sequences and then a big explosive finale (literally, with some huge explosions and shoot-outs) and something of a happy ending, until the inevitable final chapter which ends on a cliffhanger note leading into the final volume.

This predictability extends to the villains, with the rulers of the human/viral colony being rather rape-happy towards their prisoners. Whilst the issue isn't simply tossed in for the sake of it (as it would have been in, say, a Stephen King book) and is treated seriously, it's still a disappointing cliche to indulge in, especially as otherwise the treatment of the female characters is highly positive (three of the primary POVs - Alicia, Amy and Sara - are all female and are the most well-developed characters in the book).

The Twelve (****) is a very solid read, with Cronin's skills with character and prose being undiminished and even a tad improved from the first volume. However, the storyline is a lot more straightfoward, and the book shows a general decline towards predictability and cliche - though well-written - which is disappointing. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.
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Old 5th November 2012, 10:09 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Re: The Passage by Justin Cronin - the $5 million novel

Can't wait to read The Twelve - differing reviews so just going to make my own mind up. Think I'm going to love it anyway as it's right up my street and loved The Passage.
Almost finished Midnight Tides, so as soon as I have I'll be delving into The Twelve.
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Old 25th February 2013, 02:43 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Re: The Passage by Justin Cronin - the $5 million novel

The Twelve was a real disappointment. It could have been two different authors such was the poor level of writing and storytelling in The Twelve when compared to the first book. The story felt rushed with characters that were underdeveloped, cliched and downright uninteresting. The Passage was such a brilliant book and I now wonder if it was best to let the story lie where he finished it at the end of the first book. It is a real pity that how this one turned out, or maybe my expectations were too high.
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