I really must stop solely reading / listening to apocalyptical books where the world is about to or has ended but I can’t seem to get into anything else at the moment, even one of my favourite books of 2010 The Owl Killers , although on the face of it is not an apocalypse book, is because it charts the threatened end of a village in the Middle Ages and in the Middle Ages the village was the villagers world. I am, for the record, actually trying to read Wolf Hall at the moment but have only read the first few pages, thought “Ooh this looks good, I can see why people rave about this book,” and then totally lost interest in it, someone tell me a plague of zombies and vampires hit around p20 and then I might get interested (kidding).
Anyway, I have just finished listening to The Passage by Justin Cronin, another apocalyptical story about a virus that turns people into vampires being unleashed onto the United States. I listened to the unabridged version, so it was a deliciously immersive 35 hours long (or thereabouts). The narration was also excellent, narrated principally by Scott Brick, who had a lovely ‘lazy’ southern (?) American accent, the sort of accent you can imagine settling down on the porch at sunset with a long drink whilst someone tells you a tall tale. He was also very good at doing voices, so I could get into that blissful audiobook experience where it sounds more like an audioplay instead of someone just reading a book. The narration was very similar to the narration of another favourite audiobook of mine, Stephen King’s Under the Dome , but I’ve just checked, they were different narrators. The theme of the two books was quite similar to, with both having a very large cast of characters and a trapped enclosed feeling.
I really enjoyed most of the story of The Passage itself, it’s an incredibly long book and covers so much, normally when I read these sort of books I’m always left wondering “well exactly how did it start?”, when the cause of the outbreak or whatever catastrophe is only alluded to or if it’s a story about a small group of survivors somewhere I am always desperate to know if there are survivors anywhere else and Cronin answers both these questions. He starts the story at a secret military experiment where they are using Death Row inmates to test a virus that may just produce some kind of super soldier, a virus that turns its victims into creatures with super strength and the rapid ability to heal, oh and to suck blood to. Of course the experiment goes wrong and the creatures, called ‘virals’ in the book are unleashed upon the US. I lost count how many parts there are to the book, the first part(s) (one of the difficulties of reviewing an audiobook is you can’t exactly go back and flick through to check something) more closely resemble a thriller, can the FBI agent responsible for finding the Death Row inmates to experiment on redeem himself? The next parts are more sci-fi / fantasy as Cronin spends a lot of time setting up and describing a colony of survivors in California and I have to admit I found the transition between thriller and a more fantasy feel a little jarring but I appreciated it later as I felt I knew the large cast of new characters far better and therefore when they were in jeopardy the stakes felt far more higher for me the reader. It must have been tricky for Cronin to have to introduce a whole cast of characters at the beginning of the book, kill most of them off and then have to introduce a whole different cast of characters mid way through the story at a time where normally all the character introduction and scenario building should be over.
The colony, nearly 100 years old, was a troubled place and reaching the end of its life span, through various events (trying desperately not to spoiler here), a group of the characters are forced to go out of the relative safety of the colony to go and find help. Here we do get to see if there are any more survivors and we also learn more about what happened in the immediate aftermath of the infection. They travel across the country meeting other people and argh I can’t write more because I don’t want to give any clues to the story, read it people, it’s a brilliant story and the ending is one of the best endings I’ve read in ages.
One final note, as someone who spent her formal education in science labs instead of the fiction section of the library, I am not the best person at spotting ‘themes’ in books but even I could spot one of the principal themes in this book (maybe that means Cronin was slightly hammering home the point of the theme too much) but the book was very much about how we as a population are happy to live in mainly ignorance about what other people are doing for us in our name and how new technologies are used, even when civilisation had been all but destroyed most of the members of the colony were deliberately ignorant of the work technicians of the colony did to keep the power on. I thought it was an interesting point.
I now desperately want Cronin to write a sequel but something tells me that he probably won’t (don’t know, haven’t checked either way) because of the way how he left it. I will just have to continue the story on in my head I guess.