Book Review: The Ferryman by Justin Cronin

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Ferryman by Justin Cronin

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Ballantine Books (May 2, 2023)

Length: 538 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

It’s an unfortunate reality that many authors who write groundbreaking novels fail to ever capture the same magic again with their follow-up work. But then there’s Justin Cronin, whose new book The Ferryman not only lives up to the epicness of The Passage trilogy but surpasses it in terms of its vision and depth of scope as well.

However, the plot is so multilayered and complex that describing it is going to be next to impossible, so I’m not even going to try. What I will give you is the setup, which is irresistibly intriguing all on its own: In the middle of the ocean lies the archipelago of Prospera, a utopian state hidden from the horrors of the outside world—except things aren’t as idyllic as they seem in this so-called island paradise. For one thing, Prospera has its social divisions as well. Made up of three islands, the largest, Prospera proper, is where the wealthy elite reside, while The Annex is home to working class citizens and support staff.

And then there’s The Nursery. Everyone on Prospera is fitted with a monitor that ostensibly measures their physical and mental health, but it has a more ominous function as well. As you grow older and your numbers fall to an unacceptably low number, your monitor triggers a “retirement process” in which the citizen will be taken to The Nursery in order to have their memories wiped and their old bodies renewed so that they can restart life as another iteration. Those reborn come back as teenagers, to become adopted as wards by Prospera couples, and then the whole cycle begins again.

Our protagonist Proctor Bennett is a Ferryman, and it is his duty to accompany residents by boat to Nursery island when they are ready to be “rebooted”. It is also up to him to ensure that every citizen gets to make that transition smoothly and with dignity. But then one day, he fails at that task spectacularly with none other than his own aging father, who makes a scene at the pier but still manages to get a strange message out to his son. Those perplexing words end up upending Proctor’s life, making him question everything about himself and what he believes in. Why does he dream when no one else does? And what might have driven his mother to commit suicide all those years ago?

From there, the story gets increasingly more elaborate, and I’m not exaggerating when I say a shit ton of things happen in this book, but then I say at 500+ pages, there damn well better be. The Ferryman is definitely not for the fainted hearted or easily daunted; it combines science fiction and dystopian elements with a dash of action and thrills to create an engaging saga that draws from themes ranging from social issues to personal struggles. And while the book is largely told from Proctor’s point-of-view, there are other perspective characters who share some page time, including Thea, an art dealer with whom our protagonist begins a complicated relationship. Still, even the limited cast does not constrain this novel, and in fact, the tight focus only has the effect of making things feel even more critical and immediate.

Underlying all this is also a strong current of mystery. This is a book that starts lobbing clues at you from page one while guarding the full picture closely, doling out the answers little by little so that you form the connections gradually, making each revelation a delight. As Proctor attempts to get to the bottom of the Arrivalist movement, created by a group of dissidents from The Annex, he is also trying to figure out his rocky marriage with Elise, who disappointingly does not share in his desire to adopt a ward. And then there’s Caeli. A rebellious teenager who befriends Proctor, Caeli later disappears and finding her may be the key to solving the mystery.

All of this culminates into a surprise I did not see coming. By the time the book ends, you are so far out of the same territory as when the book began, you start to wonder how in the hell you got here, which only just leads you to retrace your steps and blow your mind anew. Like a Matryoshka doll, there are stories nestled within stories, but there are also huge shifts that nevertheless keep the plot elements tightly woven so that overall themes and character motivations still make sense.

All this might sound cryptic, but if you are curious about any of it, I highly recommend picking up The Ferryman so you can experience the joys and intrigue for yourself. Fans of sci-fi and dystopian fiction looking for an imaginative, mysterious, and thrilling book to feed your brain, I promise you will not be disappointed.

22 Comments on “Book Review: The Ferryman by Justin Cronin”

  1. My days of seeking out “multilayered and complex” are done. I might enjoy that if I stumble across it, but it is no longer a draw for me. Plus, I couldn’t even finish the Passage trilogy 🙂


  2. I will have to give this one a chance: I was somewhat disappointed with The Passage (even though the vampire angle was quite intriguing), and this new novel sounds a lot better so I’d better make some space on my TBR… 😉
    Thanks for sharing!


  3. I just finished an ARC over the weekend, and I know I’ll have difficulty putting into words how I felt about it in a review. But you did a wonderful job! I thought it was amazing.


  4. Annddd… it’s just come available on Netgalley UK – I keep telling myself that I’m falling horribly behind with my TBR pile… But I think in light of your wonderful review, I’ll have to nick across there and request it! Thank you for sharing, Mogsy:)).


  5. It’s really hard to even begin to explain the the twist without spoiling anything. So glad you enjoyed it! It was sooo good!!


  6. I liked the Passage but ended up hating and DNFing the last volume of the trilogy. This sounds like he’s grown as an author, so I’m actually tempted!


  7. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 05/21/23: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  8. I love having more to look forward to. A little earlier in the year I found copies of The Passage, and possibly the 2nd book in that series, so I can’t wait to try them.


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