The Passage series of books by Justin Cronin is the best trilogy in fiction today. There, I said it. Cronin’s post apocalyptic American vampire epic is one of the most staggering literary achievements I’ve encountered. The strength of the characters, the clarity of the prose and the immensity of the story from beginning to conclusion are incredible accomplishments. I finished The City of Mirrors, the third and final instalment last night, and I’m still thinking about it. It was a sobering, breathtaking and harrowing conclusion.
The story isn’t so much a window into the narrative of a certain place, at a certain time like most fiction; this series gives the sense of a continued presence, as we watch the course of lives and even civilisations play out on the pages. The scope of this series and the fullness of these events are something that few books manage to achieve. Cronin writes vividly, generously and with a clarity that makes building a rapport and emotional investment effortless. It makes you a part of it, involved as an observer of a living breathing world. There were numerous moments where I had to just put the book down and take a step back. But never once was a scene constructed that seemed forced or designed to manipulate emotion. It all feels ordained or natural. It’s definitely heartbreaking, but it’s natural and logical, like a life lived.
The cast of characters is large, as you would expect in a series of novels with this kind of scope, but none of them are unnecessary and all are expounded upon and established as characters that are uniquely themselves, that are vital and connected. Both the heroes and villains are flawed, but not in a rudimentary or stereotypical application of tropes, but as you would expect living breathing people to be. They have their own motivations, beliefs and philosophies and they are believable. Their actions are organic and real and tragic and never do they bother immersion or reader investment. I found Cronin’s character creation and their power seriously impressive.
The Virals are an excellent variation on the Vampire myth. Electing to return to the traditional roots of a repellent and grotesque transformation, an infection rather than something glamorous and sexualised. The virus producing this transformation is suitably devastating and horrifying. I love the construction of the new mythology and origins as it is elucidated upon throughout the narrative; I always found the background and exposition of this stuff to be incredibly compelling and Cronin enjoys teasing out the details throughout the first few books, playing with time-lines to establish a rich and detailed backdrop, and then heading heavily into the past as the final book leaps toward the conclusion.
I found myself sad at the end of it all, but after thinking about it, it was less about any specific tragedy and was more the sadness of a departing friend. The series is harrowing, and tragic but the saddest aspect at the end, when I finally put the book down, was the feeling of leaving the characters behind. There was no longer a sense of continuity. This is natural; the series had to end and I think it ends exceedingly well, but it surprised me once I had finished how much of a hold the cast and the world of Cronin’s series had on me. This really is a series that everybody should try, whether you’re a fan of genre fiction or not. This is just fantastic writing and world building. It’s art and should be appreciated as such. Cronin is an intimidating guy; anybody that could come up with something like this, and execute it so effectively, is a force to be reckoned with. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.