Review: My Thoughts on The Passage and The Twelve by Justin Cronin

Posted January 10, 2013 by Heather in Book Reviews / 10 Comments

The Passage, by Justin Cronin

Title: The Passage
Author: Justin Cronin
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Length: 912 pages
Genre(s): Fiction, Horror, Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books – July 2012

Goodreads | Amazon

From Amazon:

An epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival, The Passage is the story of Amy–abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her. As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape–but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.

The Twelve, by Justin Cronin

Title: The Twelve
Author: Justin Cronin
Format: Kindle
Length: 626 pages
Genre(s): Fiction, Horror, Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books – October 2012

Goodreads | Amazon

From Amazon:

In the present day, as the man-made apocalypse unfolds, three strangers navigate the chaos. Lila, a doctor and an expectant mother, is so shattered by the spread of violence and infection that she continues to plan for her child’s arrival even as society dissolves around her. Kittridge, known to the world as “Last Stand in Denver,” has been forced to flee his stronghold and is now on the road, dodging the infected, armed but alone and well aware that a tank of gas will get him only so far. April is a teenager fighting to guide her little brother safely through a landscape of death and ruin. These three will learn that they have not been fully abandoned–and that in connection lies hope, even on the darkest of nights.

One hundred years in the future, Amy and the others fight on for humankind’s salvation…unaware that the rules have changed. The enemy has evolved, and a dark new order has arisen with a vision of the future infinitely more horrifying than man’s extinction. If the Twelve are to fall, one of those united to vanquish them will have to pay the ultimate price.

I originally started reading The Passage for #TuesBookTalk. Then somewhere along the line, sj and I started lamenting it together on Twitter (she was reading it, also). The second book in the series, The Twelve was going to be released just after we finished reading The Passage, so we decided to read that one together, too. It was definitely more fun to have someone to rant with over the stuff I (we) didn’t like about the books, although I ended up liking them slightly more than sj did.

Overall, The Passage and The Twelve aren’t bad books. There are things I like about both of them, and they’re suspenseful enough that I needed to keep reading to find out what happened next. But I certainly can’t rave about them as others have done.

**Kind of spoilery summary of the books for clarification: the trilogy is about a virus that wipes out almost the entire human population, turning most of the ones who don’t die into something like vampires.

Here are my main complaints about both books, in no particular order (I’ll try to keep this list as spoiler-free as possible, but be forewarned if you haven’t read the books):

1. Cronin really needs to decide what exactly the virus is, and stick to it. I understand that the virus is morphing and changing, but I feel like it is at the author’s whim. It doesn’t feel natural. It feels to me like Cronin thought, “I really want this to happen in the story, but it doesn’t work with the current effects of the virus. I know! I’ll just change how the virus works!”

2. Three words: deus ex machina. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, here is the definition of this phrase from www.merriam-webster.com:

a person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty

I’m not usually a fan of this plot device, and it was used in both books. Blah.

3. The ending of The Passage was the worst ending I have ever read in my 20+ years of reading adult literature. Seriously. I can’t really say anything specific about it because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read the book, but I wanted to throw the book across the room after reading the last couple pages. I don’t mind cliff-hangers in series, I really don’t. But this ending was infuriating. If you’ve read the book, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

4. There are a lot of characters…maybe too many…and because both books are so long, it is sometimes hard to remember who everyone is and what has become of them. Sometimes Cronin would mention a character and then not write about that person again for hundreds of pages. Then all of a sudden they would pop back into the story and I’d think to myself, “Who the hell is that?!” I had to keep wasting time to go back through the book to figure out who someone was, or to clarify exactly what their current status was. Thank goodness I read The Passage in treebook form; it was much harder to do this when I was reading The Twelve as an ebook. Annoying. I agree with sj that it would have been so much better if both books–but especially The Passage–would have been broken down into two or three smaller books so that Cronin could have taken more time with the characters. We would have gotten to know them better, and we would have connected with them (or at least cared about them) before they disappeared from the pages. Ah well.

5. People don’t stay dead. No pun intended.

I think those are all of my major complaints. I may have forgotten some things because it has been months since I read the books.

Now, I don’t dislike these books quite as much as sj does (read her thoughts on The Passage and The Twelve if you’re interested), and for me, the literary aspect of the books saved them from being totally awful. The writing itself is good, and both books had a lot of potential that Cronin just didn’t follow through on. That’s unfortunate, because I think both books could have been really great. I like the basic storyline. I think I could have gotten attached to quite a few of the characters if the book had been written a bit differently. I will be reading the last book in the trilogy–The City of Mirrors–that’s due out in 2014, because I want to follow this through to the end. I’m just disappointed that I’m not chafing at the bit for it to be released.

It’s hard for me to write posts like this, because I don’t necessarily want to dissuade people from reading books that they might enjoy. I would still recommend both of these to some readers. Again, I didn’t hate them. My feeling about these books is mainly disappointment at unused potential. If you’re interested in speculative fiction, I say give them a go. Read them and decide for yourself. You might just want to borrow them instead of buying them, though.

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(To learn more about Justin Cronin and The Passage trilogy, please visit his official website.)

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  • sj

    I think part of what made me rate these as low as I did was the knowledge that they COULD HAVE BEEN so much better.

    • I agree. Like I said, my feelings are so much more just plain ol’ disappointment than dislike.

  • Interesting review. I enjoyed the passage a great deal though i spent some time in it trying not to mentally shoot a few characters. The Twelve was so damn awful. All of that nonsense to get a 2 chapter ending that made no sense *grumbles* glad to hear your thoughts on this!

    • Yeah, The Twelve was MUCH worse than The Passage, and the ending of that one was pretty crappy, too.

  • Thanks for your review! I have heard many people that loved these books, but they never really interested me; virus/apocalypse/vampire things aren’t really up my alley. I feel so much better about not wanting to read these books now!

    • If you’re not already into that kind of thing, then you can definitely skip it and not feel bad about it.

  • You beat me to all the books! I’ve got The Passage on my shelf from a free giveaway last year. I’ll have to come back and check out your review once I’ve read it.

    • Not all of them. Hahaha! Yes, please don’t read this until you’ve read the book(s).

  • Interesting. . . I have heard SOOOO much about these books on Twitter, and I wasn’t sure about them. It might not be the right genre for me.

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