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. Amy Harper Bellafonte.”
Thus begins Justin Cronin‘s epic, The Passage. Epic at 766 pages. Epic in the scope of the story. Epic, as in: expect some sequels to this modern vampire tale. This is the Stephen King story you’ve been waiting for all these years.
OK, I’m sure there could be people who will be upset by that King comparison. Maybe they would be upset because King Rules! Or maybe they would be upset because they believe Cronin writes on a higher level. After all, Cronin is a literary darling who has picked up a PEN/Hemingway Award, a Stephen Crane Prize, and the Whiting Writer’s Award; while King is the book world’s undisputed, uhh… king of horror and suspense.
I’m not insulting either writer. I employ the comparison for simply one reason: I haven’t felt this way about a horror novel since King’s The Stand. It’s that intense. It’s that good.
Science gone wrong leads to a post-apocalyptic world in both novels, but King’s work is firmly rooted in the ancient supernatural struggle between good (God) and evil (The Devil), while Cronin is content to imply that any seemingly supernatural goings-on (telepathy, blood-lust, near immortality) are qualities of our genes that have perhaps lain dormant for millennia—qualities that have been activated by a scientific experiment to extend the human lifespan. (To say this experiment has military implications isn’t surprising, given the stereotypes of the genre, and it isn’t giving anything away.)
Little Amy is the only subject of this experiment to retain her human identity; the other, older guinea pigs are transformed into creatures that can only be described as vampires. These creatures escape the lab and the world falls around Amy, but she continues to live, aging at a much slower rate. The savage beasts recognize her as one of them, so they do not attack her; and they recognize her as someone who can answer the question their minds continually ask: “What am I?”
Following our introduction to Amy and her transformation into a near immortal, we travel almost 100 years into the future to meet a struggling community of surviving humans. Amy eventually joins the survivors, and travels with them as they seek a way to save their haven. Ultimately she confronts one of the original 12 vampires that were created prior to Amy’s transformation, and events are set in motion that will continue in Cronin’s next two books, The Twelve, and The City of Mirrors.
Like in King’s The Stand, the ultimate payoff in Cronin’s work lies in watching the creation of a new, loving family in a harsh and unforgiving world. If you ask me, you couldn’t ask for anything better after the apocalypse.
And there’s gonna be a movie.