The Passage enters into some very elite company as it garners my highest rating: 5 stars. It is a rare feat to enter into this club, but this book, with it's amazing mix of fantasy, great dialogue, wonderful action, and interesting question marks throughout make it an easy A and earn it admission into the 5 star club.
A quick summary - some scientists work with the government to create people that have been given some special viruses to make them hopefully last forever and perhaps cure cancer. This goes wildly wrong (shocking, I know) and they become really bad, sort of zombie like people which sort of leads to the end of the U.S. Some people survive and this is their story about how it happened and the future of this new world.
I wanted to start off with something bad to say about it, but doing so would just be picking nits. Perhaps its too long at around 800 pages, or it jumps a bit too much from story or time in history (yeah, it's one of those), or it is a bit slow to get started and the reader truly hooked, but again, these are small issue.
In the end, the Passage is just phenomenal. The Passage reminds me of a mix of Lonesome Dove (my review here) and The Stand (my review here). While both of those books were very good, if you put them together, you get the masterpiece that is The Passage. As I said briefly in the first paragraph, the book is a bit fantastic. It's not really a story that could happen (at least we hope not) as it's a bit apocalyptic and about future societies but at the same time it's not so fantastic that you couldn't think it could happen. For me, this is just the right amount of science fiction; still based in reality but not very likely. What's perhaps most outstanding about this book is the writing. This might seem obvious but Cronin has a great ability to switch styles and gears (which he did often to great effect) throughout the book. There are pieces that written like poems and are quite lyrical, while the next chapter might describe an epic battle in great detail and with all the gore and action, while the next might include dialogue from key characters that you give great insights into who they are. The beautiful writing really gives this book a huge boost.
So, why did it get 5 stars? Well, if you remember the well conceived rating system I originally created, I base my ratings on how captivating and interesting it is; basically, was it entertaining? This book is a home run for that. It is a truly great story, wonderful and well rounded characters, very good dialogue that keeps you on the edge of your seat (or bed), superb action that truly puts the reader in the middle of events and a great philosophical fight between good and evil. I really wish I could add more to detail how fantastic this book really is but I am not sure what else to say. But please, do trust me. It's a long read, and you kind of have to be okay with the whole zombie thing (but again, nothing like Twilight... it's not really zombies just, sort of, other 'beings'), and the ending is kind of vague (hence the sequel called "The Twelve" (can't wait to read that)) but it beats anything I have read in a long time.
As I said, this books joins elite company -- do yourself a favor and read it if you have not; you will not regret a single page.