Justin Cronin – The Passage
Length: 766 pages
Genre: Horror/Thriller/Post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi
Started: 13 May 2010
Finished: 22 May 2010
Where did it come from? From the publishers for review.
Why do I have it? Saw the ad in Shelf Awareness and thought it looked like a good summer read.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 29 March 2010.
The common cold ain’t
so bad, compared to viral
Summary: It’s the basic stuff of pretty much every suspense thriller out there: secret government project goes horribly awry. But Cronin takes The Passage much farther than your average thriller, looking at the consequences of that government project years – decades – down the road. The project is called Project NOAH, and it involves infecting humans with a virus in the hopes of turning them into super-soldiers. The virus makes them immensely strong and virtually indestructible, but it also turns them into terrifying bloodthirsty hunters, with powers unanticipated even by the scientists who study them. The twelve previous unsuccessful subjects have been death-row inmates, and now, in the final hour, a thirteenth subject is brought in: a six-year-old orphan named Amy. When everything goes to hell and the twelve escape, Amy is rescued by an FBI agent and taken into the wilderness. As the pandemic spreads across the country, the army attempts to respond, but the virals are seemingly indestructable. Eventually, all that remains of humanity is isolated in small outposts, like New Colony – protected by their high-powered lights, and unsure whether they really are the last people in the world. It seems to them as though the fate of the human race rests on the batteries that are slowly but inexorably failing… until the day that a mysterious young woman shows up at their gate.
Review: It’s been a long time since I’ve read much horror, or even very many thrillers, but within the first few pages of The Passage, two things happened to me. First, I was caught up in the flow and pacing of the story, with the short chapters and the multiple threads, and had an overwhelming flood of nostalgia for my junior-high and high-school years spent reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Second: I was scared. Seriously. Not even fifteen pages in, and I was already creeped out, and looking askance at dark corners, and desperate to know more. There’s a series of one-sided e-mails early in the book, from someone on a research team in the South American jungles, and they’ve found some weird carvings, and evidence of a fire, and then they are attacked by killer bats that tear some of the scientists into pieces, and then the last line is just “Now I know why the soldiers are here” and that’s it! That’s all you get! It’s an effective piece of horrific suspense, and it’s a hell of a hook.
The vampires are pretty terrifying, too. Not that the book uses the v-word all that often, typically calling them “virals” instead. And that, too, I think is a calculated choice, given the glut of vampire stories out there… because these vampires are not so much like regular literary vampires. They are not sparkling-in-the-sun, swanking-around-in-frock-coats vampires, so much as leap-on-you-from-20-feet-away-and-literally-tear-your-throat-out vampires. They don’t have delicate retractable fangs so much as slavering maws of teeth. And while the middle section of the book definitely has sort of a City of Ember “the lights are going out” vibe to it, there’s a definite difference in consequences. In Ember when the lights go out, everyone will be trapped stumbling around in the dark, while in the world of The Passage, people aren’t in as much danger of stumbling around in the dark… because the virals will have already killed and eaten them. Reading it before bed definitely made me leery of turning off my bedside lamp for the night.
This book did have two related issues that didn’t entirely work out for me. First, I didn’t realize when I started that the story of the first one hundred or so pages was not the same story as the other six hundred pages, so when section one ended and the story shifts radically, I was pretty severely wrong-footed. Second, I didn’t know whether a similar shift was coming in another hundred pages, so it took me a long time to really get involved with – or even warm to – the characters. This was exacerbated, I’m sure, by the sheer number of them; for the most part, Cronin walks a very fine line of balance between worldbuilding and character development, but I think some of the peripheral character’s chapters could have been cut, or at least shifted until it was clear that they were peripheral. I was also not aware until I was halfway through that this was the first book in a series. The ending of this volume, though, is satisfying, and the stopping point isn’t arbitrary, plus it’s got enough of a tease to definitely leave me wanting more. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Fans of thrillers or post-apocalyptic fiction are the two obvious audience bases here, or anyone who’s sick of literary vampires having feelings other than bloodlust. It’s too big to be a proper beach book, but it’s got that same feel: fast-moving, plenty of action, and an interesting world that captures your attention… plus one that you will want to be reading when it’s nice and bright and sunny outside.
Links: The Passage website
Other Reviews: Book-a-rama, Books and Movies, Books I Done Read, Fantasy Book Critic, Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?, It’s All About Books, Lovely Treez Reads, Presenting Lenore, The Wertzone
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: 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.
Cover Thoughts: It’s shiny! And pretty. And doesn’t tell you a whole lot about the story, plus the landscape for most of the book is a lot drier and grassier than forest on the cover.