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The Passage    by Justin Cronin order for
by Justin Cronin
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Random House, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Despite its vampiric resonances, Justin Cronin's The Passage reminded me most of John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids. After all, both begin with science run amok, setting the scene for apocalypse. However, Cronin's take on the end of the world also has a strong - and uplifting - vein of mysticism and faith running through it.

The novel's heroine is a girl. 'Before she became the Girl from Nowhere - the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years - she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy.' When Amy's single young mother gets into serious trouble, she leaves her daughter with Sister Lacey Kudoto (whose own west African childhood was a dark one) at her convent. Sister Lacey, who has a deep faith, soon realizes that she has a very special child in her care.

Next we meet individuals working with the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, via email correspondence from Dr. Jonas Lear in the jungles of Bolivia. He brings back with him a virus with the potential to create invincible soldiers, 'the ultimate bunker busters.' Needing test subjects, the army secretly recruits Death Row criminals. After creating eleven vampires, they decide they need a younger subject and select Amy as a child who will not be missed.

But of course, their test subjects have their own ideas and gradually suborn their captors through dreams. A dozen escape into the world, but Amy (who, though infected with the virus, is very different from the others) has protectors ready to sacrifice themselves to save her. While states are overrun one by one by the killer virus, Amy is kept safe in a mountain refuge. But even that eventually falls to the jumps, the man-made monsters.

A century later, First Colony struggles to survive in the San Jacinto Mountains. They keep the virals away with bright lights, but their power sources have been failing for some time; the end is near. After a Walker (Amy) reaches the colony, a group - twenty-one-year old Peter Jaxon, pregnant Mausami Patal, tough Alicia Blades, nurse Sara Fisher and her engineer brother Michael - flee the faltering refuge and attempt to return Amy to Telluride, Colorado where it all began.

Of course, the trip is not easy - there are captures and escapes, help from surprising sources and betrayals, separations and reunions. Members of the party fall by the wayside, while others, long lost from the colony, are found again. And they learn a great deal about the enemy, in particular the fact that there are actually a lot less than 'Forty million smokes out there'. Can Amy and Peter save the human race? They make a start in The Passage, but their war has only begun.

This is a remarkable read, rich in story, and a classic in the making - the hardcover edition was a blockbuster hit last summer and it's a safe prediction that this new edition will have an even greater success. Justin Cronin says in an interview at the back of this book, 'if the world is going to be saved, it's going to be a girl who does it - or, if not a girl, then the girl in all of us.' Like countless others, I'm anxious to find out how Amy manages it in The Twelve, out next year. Highly recommended!!

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