I’ll start with a disclaimer: I really don’t read super long books all that often. I have read a few with 600+ page counts – of course there’s she-who-must-not-be-named’s The Deathly Hallows, and then Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale (one of my favorite books to reread), as well as Harriette Simpson Arnow’s The Dollmaker, which I read in a course I took for my English degree. But when we get into the 700+ territory, I believe there’s only a handful I’ve read – and the three on this list were not only the first to come to mind, but are also three of my favorites. And so, without further ado:
The Passage // Justin Cronin
IT HAPPENED FAST. THIRTY-TWO MINUTES FOR ONE WORLD TO DIE, ANOTHER TO BE BORN.
First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse. As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. Wolgast is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors, but for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—toward the time an place where she must finish what should never have begun.”
Starting with the title I’ve read most recently, Justin Cronin’s The Passage clocks in with a total of 766 pages (at least, my hardcover copy does. I can’t speak for other editions, of course). I got my copy from a friend at work for Christmas (thanks Tony!), a couple months before the Covid-19 pandemic really began here in America, so I definitely ended up with the time to read it. It’s the first sci-fi book I’ve read in a good long while, and it reminded me a lot of Michael Crichton’s work (granted, I haven’t read anything of Crichton’s since probably 2009, aside from Timeline, which I reread every three years or so; but the summer after eighth grade I discovered the author and then devoured nearly every book he’d ever written, for some reason).
The Passage isn’t a book about vampires, but at the same time, it’s a book with vampires – just, not the ones that typically come to mind. My favorite part, though, was the fact that 1/3 of the book takes place in one century; the other 2/3 are set after a time jump of nearly 100 years. You’re given the chance to see the lead-up to the end of the world as we knew it, and then move on to a completely new setting and cast of characters, dealing with the fallout of the first third of the novel. The abrupt change was jarring at first, but where I’d thought the first group of characters was great, the second cast was even better. And where the first 1/3 had been interesting, the last two parts were even more riveting. All three novels on this list are worth a reread, in my opinion, but this is the one I see myself most likely to reread first.
The Mists of Avalon // Marion Zimmer Bradley
From the Wikipedia page:
“The Mists of Avalon is a generations-spanning retelling of the Arthurian legend that brings it back to its Brythonic Celtic roots. The plot tells the story of the women who influence King Arthur, High King of Britain, and those around him.
The Mists of Avalon is a 1983 historical fantasy novel by American writer Marion Zimmer Bradley, in which the author relates the Arthurian legends from the perspective of the female characters. The book follows the trajectory of Morgaine (Morgan le Fay), a priestess fighting to save her Celtic religion in a country where Christianity threatens to destroy the pagan way of life. The epic is focused on the lives of Morgaine, Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere), Viviane, Morgause, Igraine and other women of the Arthurian legend. The Mists of Avalon is in stark contrast to most other retellings of the Arthurian tales, which consistently cast Morgan le Fay as a distant, one-dimensional evil sorceress, with little or no explanation given for her antagonism to the Round Table. In this case, Morgaine is presented as a woman with unique gifts and responsibilities at a time of enormous political and spiritual upheaval who is called upon to defend her indigenous heritage against impossible odds.“
This was a book that had been on my TBR for at least two or three years before I finally picked it up, though I suppose that’s not all too long, considering. My British Studies minor advisor had listed it as one of his favorite novels, and I’d dutifully made a note of the title, purchased a copy, and then promptly forgot about it until halfway through 2016. Despite it’s hefty page count (884 pages!) I somehow managed to read the book in it’s entirety during the first two weeks of my senior year of undergrad – if only I still had that same sort of fervor today! I can’t even imagine what I’d get done.
But back to the book. Like the synopsis says, not only is this an amazing retelling of the Arthurian legends, from the POV of the female characters who’d long been overlooked, it’s also a retelling (or redesign, perhaps, would be the better word) of Morgaine’s character, and her story, within the larger Arthurian legends. She goes from the shallow villain she’d so oft been portrayed as to a much more complex, interesting protagonist; similarly, many of the other familiar names from the legends undergo such positive transformations (aside from the fact that Bradley decided to give Merlin the name ‘Kevin’, of all things, a detail which I’d rather forget).
The Sunne in Splendour // Sharon Kay Penman
“A glorious novel of the controversial Richard III – a monarch betrayed in life by his allies and betrayed in death by history. In this beautifully rendered modern classic, Sharon Kay Penman redeems Richard III – vilified as the bitter, twisted, scheming hunchback who murdered his nephews, the princes in the Tower – from his maligned place in history with a dazzling combination of research and storytelling. Born into the treacherous courts of fifteenth-century England, in the midst of what history has called The War of the Roses, Richard was raised in the shadow of his charismatic brother, King Edward IV. Loyal to his friends and passionately in love with the one woman who was denied him, Richard emerges as a gifted man far more sinned against than sinning. This magnificent retelling of his life is filled with all of the sights and sounds of battle, the customs and lore of the fifteenth century, the rigors of court politics, and the passions and prejudices of royalty.”
Last, but certainly not least, we have Sharon Kay Penman’s debut novel, and a work of historical fiction –The Sunne in Splendour. A debut novel that just so happened to fill 1,248 pages. OVER A THOUSAND! Not to mention the fact the author had to completely rewrite her manuscript and start from scratch when her only copy was stolen (as it was the 1980s, and so of course it would’ve been more difficult to back-up drafts).
I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be able to read any another fictionalized work of Richard III’s life, because The Sunne in Splendour simply set the bar so high. Richard III is one of my ‘historical faves’, and someone I’ve studied and read about for years; reading this portrayal of him was so interesting, and a refreshing look at how the king may have been seen and remembered, had the history of the Wars of the Roses not been written by the victors (as history nearly always is). In addition, Penman’s work was clearly so meticulously researched, something I (as an avid medievalist and Wars of the Roses enthusiast) greatly appreciated – other novels I’ve read on the time period and the historical figures it contained can’t even hold a candle to how well-written Penman’s book is. I was so sorry to see that she’d passed away from pneumonia early this year, in January 2021. I’ve still got plenty of her other books on my TBR, and a few already on my personal bookshelves – I already know I’m going to enjoy them.