The Passage by Justin Cronin
Published by Bellantine Books, an imprint of Random House

Most people have heard of The Passage, and the story is pretty complicated, so instead of summarizing it myself I’ve decided to go with the publisher’s summary on this one:

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

This book took me way too long to finish, but I finally did.  I’m definitely glad I read it, but I have to admit that based on the summary I wouldn’t have picked it up if it weren’t for all the buzz the book has generated.

I’m just going to start by saying that the beginning of the novel really hooked me.  I read the first 300 pages very quickly, almost devouring the story, not interested in going back and forth with any of the other books I was reading at the time (yes, I’m a book polygamist).  I absolutely loved Amy and was so intrigued by her character and the circumstances of her life – I couldn’t wait to find out everything about her.  However, the entire middle section of the book dragged for me.  A whole bunch of new characters and an entire new society is introduced, and that really threw me for a loop and made it difficult for me to continue being immersed in the story.  Eventually I came to enjoy some of these characters and became invested in their fates, but it did take a while.  And the middle part was slooow.  I had trouble continuing on with the pace I’d set in the first third of the book – in the middle, I’d only want to read maybe 25 pages at a time before moving on to something else.  This is probably why it took me forever to finish it.

But it got a lot better in the last third.  The action picked up quite a bit, and by then I was really involved with these characters and definitely wanted to know how things would end up for them.  I finished the novel feeling very satisfied and happy I’d taken the plunge.

So would I recommend The Passage?  In a word, yes, although I don’t think the book is for everyone.  It takes quite a bit of patience to get through the middle third of the book (my opinion is that it could have been cut significantly with no detriment to the story, but whatever).  Also, if you like this one you’re actually making more of a time investment because it’s going to be a trilogy.  But if you enjoy fast-paced, complex novels with layered characters, I’d say go for it.  The Passage won’t be making any favorites lists for me, but it was a solid read that I definitely enjoyed.