Sunday February 24, 2013
Exploring the psyches of lost souls
Review by LEE MEI LI
Author: Justin Cronin
Publisher: Ballantine Books, 568 pages
TWO years ago, Justin Cronin wowed the world with The Passage, the first novel in a planned trilogy. It remained on the New York Times bestseller list for weeks and catapulted the professor of English to super-stardom almost overnight.
True, the man had already won several accolades for his 2001 slice-of-life novel, Mary And O’Neil. But The Passage? An apocalypse tale about humanity against vampire-like creatures bent on terrorising Earth? Now, that’s something else altogether.
Two years later, he’s back to present us with the second book, The Twelve. We are instantly transported back to how it all began: to Project Noah, a top secret experiment gone wrong; to death row inmates succumbing to a virus that eventually transforms the last ounce of their sanity into a hunger for blood; to the “virals” that throng the land and the skies, infecting all who dare cross their paths.
In The Passage, Cronin takes us 93 years into the future to meet Peter Jaxon, a young man living in a post-apocalyptic colony in California – a man who has no inkling of what chocolate tastes like, or cola, for that matter. We also meet Sara, Alicia, Michael and later, Amy, the “Girl from Nowhere”.
Abandoned by her mother, Amy was taken in as one of the last test subjects of Project Noah. A refined version of the virus courses through her veins and is the only reason the six-year-old has survived through the ages, remaining as the harmless young child she was before the world as we know it ended.
In The Twelve, Cronin plunges us deeper into the fates of these characters as they are faced with newfound enemies who are connected to their own pasts.
Just as in The Passage, the sequel continues with a melancholic streak bordering on heartfelt sadness, in part for the virals – men who have wronged but must now atone for their sins by multiplying their abominations a thousand-fold. A favourite scene of mine is when the virals gather to meet Amy and pitifully ask: “Who Am I?” And the answer is always: “I am Babcock. I am Morrison. I am Chavez. I am Baffes-Turrell-Winston-Sosa-Echols-Lambright-Martinez-Reinhardt-Carter.” The Twelve.
Cronin brilliantly invites us into the psyches of these lost souls; tortured beings who have retained the memories of their former selves but are unsure of who they have become.
At a glance, Cronin’s work shares similarities with The Strain trilogy, the 2009 vampire horror novel by filmmaker-author Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. But rest assured, apart from the borrowed theme of humans versus vampire-like antagonists, the two are nothing alike.
The Strain begins promisingly but lacks the substance and emotions to carry the reader through. On the other hand, The Passage and subsequently The Twelve, seem to disclose a secret with every turn of the page. Cronin is nothing if not consistent with his style of writing. At times, it almost seems as if he was there with his characters – laughing, crying, dying.
In some chapters, Cronin offers us another glimpse of the world before it ended. That comes as a pleasant surprise and adds much interest to the premise – it was thoroughly enjoyable to go back in time and discover new facets to the story, which includes new characters whose actions strengthen the role of old ones.
As we wait for his third book, The City Of Mirrors, due out in 2014, one can’t help but wonder what surprises the author will have in store for us next. Pssst: Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions apparently purchased the movie rights to the The Passage for US$1.75mil (RM5.48mil) in 2007, way back before the book was even completed.