the passage trilogy by justin cronin

Rating: 5 out of 6 stars


I’ve always found the post-apocalyptic genre extremely exciting. For that reason, naturally, upon reading the Passage Trilogy, I rather instantly became a great fan of the dystopian horror series by Justin Cronin. The series consists of three books, The Passage, The Twelve and, finally, The City of Mirrors.

Since they are so well connected and brilliantly written, I thought that a review of this series should be the first review on the blog. Even though it’s been some time since I read it. While writing my review, I actually caught myself thinking that it must almost be due for a reread of this epic trilogy.

As is obvious from the cover page above, I didn’t read the books in English. It’s Danish, by the way, if you’re wondering. This is, however, not an excuse for not writing a review. And I wanted my recommendation of the series to get out to as many people as possible.

On that note, and in advance, I’d like to apologize for any unintentional fault in translation of terms used in the series. I hope that whatever I write is clear anyway, should I accidentally have made an error in translating some of it.

Introducing the Passage Trilogy

Before she became the Girl from Nowhere – the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years – she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy. Amy Harper Bellafonte.”

And so it begins, this magnificent trilogy. From its first paragraph, the reader is thrown into the universe of the story. Already in the first sentence, something epic is forecast; the prediction of something grand. But a touch of melancholy and dystopia lurks in the phrasing of “Nowhere”, “the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years”.

Still, the author Justin Cronin succeeds in keeping us and his story grounded. Because the Girl from Nowhere – the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years – well, she was, in fact, just a little girl from Iowa, named Amy.

Obviously, the story is primarily focused on the post-apocalyptic and dystopian genre. But it adds in elements of both the supernatural and horror. Add to that loads of suspense and action. Stretching it, I’d even say that the story also contains touches of realism and relevance of society at times.

Personally, the post-apocalyptic genre has always appealed to me. In my opinion, the idea of the downfall of Earth and the subsequent attempts to rebuild a broken world are themes that hold the key to a great story. The fact that the series, besides the genre and themes, is incredibly well-written, has a great variation in narrative style and contains a lot of perspective messages, in both a biblical (not that I’m religious), but also a societal and historical sense, raises the trilogy to a whole other level. Put simply, Justin Cronin really nails it!

Reviewing a series is a bit risky. Important plot points in the first installments might easily be spoiled in order to get to a point triggered in one of the later installments of the series. Or even the final phases of the entire story. 

I will do everything in my power to avoid ruining the experience, as I myself hate having plot points spoiled in books, movies or TV series.

Having said that, I will now, in the following section reveal some of the plot to give my full review. If you, by any chance, are one of those people, that don’t even read the back cover of a book, I’ll strongly advice you to not read on. In other words, minor spoiler alert.

A Brief Summary

The story begins with a description of the childhood of a small girl, named Amy, in what the books define as the Time Before. We are set in what we as readers denote as the present (between 2015 and 2020). The first book was published in 2010, so at the time of writing of this book, it would have been set in the near future. Geographically, we find ourselves in the US, og we stay there for the entire series, almost.

Earth is different from how we know it. It is in distress, and fictive natural disasters have wrecked havoc and made several locations inhabitable and impassable.

In this devastated world, we meet Amy’s mother, who accidentally becomes pregnant with a little girl. Despite her limited ressources, she does whatever she can to give her the best childhood possible. Unfortunate circumstances force her to give away the child, Amy. It is really this action, that makes the basis of Amy’s involvement in the entire story.

The first part of the story about Amy and other more or less peripheral characters leads to Year Zero, where everything changes. A virus is found in South America. Presumably, it has the potential to cure deadly diseases and to grant people a long and healthy life, a very long life. The guinea pigs are twelve prisoners sentenced to death. They don’t have anything else to live for than a final good act for humankind. Destiny (which in literature always equals the author) wills it that something goes wrong. The virus transforms the prisoners into vampiric creatures and they break free of their prisons. Obviously.

Had it been a play in the theater, this would have been the end of the first act. The stage is set and the story can now begin for real. Fast forward to around 100 AV, that is 100 years after Year Zero (presumably, the AV stands for “After Viral”, but that’s merely a theory on my side).

Here, we are introduced to Peter Jaxon and Alicia Donadio, among others, who are living in The Last Colony somewhere in the Californian mountains. The world is racked by virals, and whatever is left of humanity fights to survive day by day.

My Thoughts On the Passage Trilogy

You might wonder how and if the two stories are connected. Of course, you have nothing to fear. Practically, every plot point and every character is of relevance to this tale. Nothing is left to coincidence.

It is rather easy to figure out how it will all end. And it seems as if the author knows that it is. He beats the reader to it, so to speak, by telling the story in a flashback, of sorts. Not in an obvious way. But on several occasions, in between the ordinary story telling, he throws in an excerpt from a diary, a map or something else. And all defined as evidence presented at a conference in the Indo-Australian Republic dated 1003 AV.

This is especially interesting. Cronin very explicitly hints that humanity somehow, in the end, prevails. But it is not the question of if they will prevail but rather how they do it that is exciting and makes the story. You know they will get through it. But the how is what really makes you read on.

This question is answered brilliantly through jumps in time (either way) and jumps in location, since we are following a long list of characters, that all evolve and grow throughout the three books.

In a thought-provoking manner, Cronin portrays how society in a post-apocalyptic world could or should be without sparing any details. On one hand, we meet evil characters hungry for power and only with their own interest in mind. On the other, however, the story is also full of people that are empathetic and kind, wanting the best for everyone else. 

Parallels can be drawn to world war conditions, concentration camps, resistance movements. And simultaneously, the mentality of the early settlers in the New World.

Furthermore, the trilogy may in its entirety be compared to one of the most renowned biblical stories, the Book of Genesis – the story of the creation of humankind. But on the other hand, also the theory of evolution and the idea of survival of the fittest are

The religious tone is very explicit. The entire story is referred to as “The Book of the Twelve”. And multiple characters are given epithets like “The Believer”, “The Man of Tomorrow”, “The Healer” and “The Sorrowful”. So if you’re into that kind of stuff, that’s a nice bonus.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, The Passage Trilogy is definitely a series to pick up if you’re into an epic, exciting, action-packed, gripping, and last but not least post-apocalyptic story. After having read the last couple of pages, you’re left with a feeling of emptiness and sadness, thinking: “Now what?”.

Justin Cronin could have definitely written a couple of more books, were it up to me. There are some open ends, not that they ruin the story, at all, though. But I believe that he easily could have written one or two sequels. And still, he finished it on a high note, and it is a satisfactory end. So it’s probably for the better that he didn’t.

One can always hope that he, sometime in the future, comes up with an equally genius story. And that he wants to share it with the rest of the world.

The Hard Facts

Justin Cronin was born in New England, USA, and is a Harvard graduate and former professor of English. He currently resides in Houston, Texas. Of his bibliography of five novels, his debut Mary and O’Neil received, among other, the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.

The Passage Trilogy is his latest work. The series consists of the three books The Passage (2010), The Twelve (2012) and The City of Mirrors (2016) all originally published by Ballantine Books in the US. The first installment spent three months on the New York Times bestseller list and was part of the Times’ Top 10 Fiction of 2010.

In January 2019, the trilogy premiered as a TV series on FOX. Unfortunately, it only endured one season on the small screen before being cancelled.

You can buy the books using the following links:

DISCLOSURE: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning that at NO additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.


The Passage [1]
Buy on Amazon


The Twelve [2]
Buy on Amazon


The City of Mirrors [3]
Buy on Amazon

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