Ivy League scientists discover evidence of a vampyric virus and get a military grant to help find and study it. Right away, we smell trouble, and before long, but not before they had sufficient warning, a secret military unit is experimenting on death row inmates, who end up escaping with intentions to spread the virus and destroy the world as we know it. Enter Amy, the final test subject, a six-year-old abandoned innocent, who, unlike the others (called "The Twelve," though I count thirteen), doesn't turn into an evil blood sucker and may turn out to be the salvation of the world.
First of all, I should say this was a lot of fun to read, and it was hard to put down -- apart from a few drawn out digressions and bits of melodrama that dragged. I read it, late into the night, for several nights in a row. Cronin has a way with words, and, against the backdrop of a science fiction and fantasy premise, his story depicts a credible and realistic future. The characters are convincing and the situations unique and engaging -- it's both an intriguing new take on what seemed to be an overdone and worn out genre, and an exciting epic in its own right that even those who hate vampire fiction should find fun. In other words, it's guilt-free fun summer fiction.
Having said that, I think it might have been improved with a tighter structure, and the elimination of a few oddball elements. The story shifts between several different narrative perspectives, which adds to the intrigue - there is an omniscient narrator who sides with the point of view of one or the other characters, there are first person narratives written as if in an email or journal, and there are historical and military archives, that all combine to tell a story that spans a century - from the viral apocalypse to the point where a ragged band of humans with a messianic child in tow decides to do something about it. Most of what happens in between is omitted, and I almost think it might have been better to start near the end and compress the beginnings into a few flashbacks. On the other hand, I enjoyed most of it and apart from a few lengthy chapters I'm not quite sure what I'd want to drop.
A couple of other minor gripes: I was a bit thrown off by the seemingly supernatural elements in a story that otherwise aimed for roots in reality (at least, a science fiction reality, where viruses can make human beings live quite long and get some cool powers and dark desires). For example, there's a little girl who has a psychic connection with animals, even before there was a semi-plausible science-fiction explanation. At the very least it would be a pretty odd coincidence that the girl they picked seemingly at random as a young test subject happened already to have psychic powers -- but it might indicate that the author wants us to take seriously the various flirtations with theology spread throughout the story, suggesting there might be a divine influence here. I would also drop the odd invented expletive from the future: flyers, it's bizarre, and I couldn't figure out for the longest time that "flyers" was a word they were using somewhat like another word that starts with f, but with much less versatility. As far as I can tell, it almost always appears at the beginning of a sentence, as in "Flyers, Peter, can't you do something about this?" Flyers just doesn't have the heft or the weight of a real satisfyingly solid cuss word - assuming that's what it's intended to be. Still, the book as a whole certainly does have the heft and excitement of a blockbuster novel, where you can forgive a few excesses as long as it's thrilling and keeps you on the edge of your seats, caring about the characters and eager to find out what happens next. The Passage did it for me, and I can't wait for the next volume in the projected trilogy.