Justin Cronin’s motto is to “write the book that asks to be written.” And in a post-Twilight world, thankfully The Passage asked him to breath life into it, bringing some much needed bite back to vampire literature in the process.
The Passage begins in the present day. 12 death row prisoners are given the tantalising prospect of having their death sentences revoked in return for taking part in a top secret government experiment entitled Project Noah involving a recently discovered virus, which may hold the key to human immortality. Things get further complicated when scientists decide to introduce a 13th subject, a 6-year-old girl named Amy, into the mix. While the virus initially appears to enhance the subjects – they become stronger, faster and heal quicker – thinks take a turn for the worse, transforming the twelve into horrifying, bloodthirsty, vampire-like creatures who inevitably escape and quickly bring the human race to the brink of extinction.
Fast-forward over 90 years, in a ravaged America we are introduced to the residents of The Colony, a small group of people who live out there days in an eternally lit, fortified enclosure desperately trying to source the power needed to keep the protective lights (a deterrent to the light sensitive “virals”) switched on. On a dangerous run to find a way to recharge batteries for the lights, they encounter a mysterious young girl who has spent years in the wilderness alone. Amazingly, she is much older than her teenage appearance suggests and can communicate on some level with the virals, without having succumbed to their demented, violent thirst for blood, and may hold the key to reclaiming the world.
There is no doubt about it, Cronin has created a classic in the first book of his trilogy (followed by The Twelve and The City of Mirrors). From the moment we are introduced to “the twelve” right up to the horrifyingly nail-biting conclusion that makes reading the sequel a must, the story is perfectly paced through its hefty 963 pages. Cronin keeps things interesting by looking at the story from various different perspectives and peppering the narrative with e-mail messages, diary entries, and extracts from books written hundreds of years in the future that recount events during the global epidemic.
Like many an epic novel before it, the biblical references are also very prominent here, with Cronin drawing on the story of Noah (“Project Noah”), who reportedly lived for 950 years, and the 12 being a direct nod to the 12 apostles of Jesus. Despite living in a long-since changed, terrifying world, the characters in this novel find themselves frequently looking to the skies and pondering the existence of a god, wondering how he could have forsaken them, leaving them to fend for themselves in a violent land.
Of course, it was inevitable that a story of this scope and scale would get the adaptation treatment. In 2007, long before the book was even published, Ridley Scott’s production company bought the adaptation rights for almost $2 million dollars. He had initially envisioned it as a blockbuster film series, but as is the case nowadays with many a story, it has found it’s home on the small screen. Fox will debut the series in January of next year. Reaction to the series has been mixed amongst fans online. Many can’t wait for the adaptation to drop to see how it compares to the books, while a smaller group have been pushing back against some of the interesting casting choices for the series (for example, some racially fuelled comments on social media have been levelled towards black actress Saniyya Sidney, who has taken on the role of Amy, a white character in the source material. Similarly, Brianne Howey’s casting as Babcock – a violent, evil, male, character in the book – has raised some eyebrows also).
Of course, these complaints are all ridiculous. The race or gender of these characters ultimately doesn’t change anything major from the plot, and perhaps more importantly, the man who created these characters seems all for the series and whatever changes it brings. Speaking earlier this summer, Cronin remarked that the making of the TV series was “completely strange in such a great way … I’ve spent 10 years marinating with this material, in the background, with the idea that someday it will become a television show. … It’s marvellous and disorienting, and it’s deeply cool.”
Let’s hope that the adaptation is as “deeply cool” as the book it’s based on. I for one will be watching come January. Get your hands on the The Passage if you are in the market for an epic, post-apocalyptic tale of survival, horror and hope! I’ve also linked the trailer for the series below!