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Justin Cronin – The Passage

June 8, 2010

57. The Passage by Justin Cronin (2010)
The Passage, Book 1

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
vampirism. Yikes.

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.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

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.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. June 8, 2010 7:41 am

    *sigh* I keep hoping that one of these days I’ll read a review of a vampire book and realize that I am no longer sick of vampires. But so far, no. I have read reviews of loads of vampire books that sound great and original and scary, and I can’t face any of them.

    • June 9, 2010 11:55 am

      Jenny – Does it help that they’re sort of vampire/zombie hybrids? Or that the book is more post-apocalyptic than vampire-based, and mostly focused on the people, with the vampires (vampbies? zombpires?) lurking around the periphery and being menacing?

  2. June 8, 2010 8:31 am

    This sounds like a much better version of The Strain. I might opt out- I hate it when actual vampires aren’t called vampires- but it sounds great.

    • June 9, 2010 12:31 pm

      Omni – Well, again, they’re sort of zombpires, so I thought calling them virals to distinguish them was actually kind of clever.

  3. June 8, 2010 8:57 am

    I’m not normally a fan of thrillers, but I seem to like them better when supernatural elements are involved. I think my husband might like it too based on your review. Thanks! I’m glad I have this for review and I’d better get reading it soon.

    • June 9, 2010 12:32 pm

      Meghan – Don’t be scared of the page count; it goes a lot faster than it looks.

  4. June 8, 2010 9:16 am

    Really nice to hear your thoughts. Love the references to non-sparkly vampires. LOL

    I’m looking forward to reading this one sometime this summer. Even if it’s not a beach book exactly, it will be a good one for vacation.

    • June 9, 2010 12:32 pm

      Kay – If it were lighter… or if you have a Kindle, I guess, it would make perfect beach reading.

  5. June 8, 2010 9:20 am

    There were a ton of characters weren’t there? I loved the character of Amy.

    • June 9, 2010 12:33 pm

      Lenore – I loved Amy too; I can’t wait to find out more about her in the next book(s)… the scene at the zoo was so bizarre and creepy!

  6. June 8, 2010 10:42 am

    I received this book right before BEA-I did not realize it was the next “it” book.

    • June 9, 2010 12:33 pm

      Esme – I knew they were promoting it hard, but I didn’t realize quite how hard until a few days ago.

  7. June 8, 2010 12:05 pm

    The radical shift about a hundred pages in probably wouldn’t work for me either, but other than that it sounds like a great read. And hopefully expecting it will make a difference.

    • June 9, 2010 12:35 pm

      Nymeth – If I’d been expecting it, I don’t think I would have minded it at all, but I was expecting the story described on the back cover to take all 700 pages, and then to have it be over in the first hundred was really disconcerting.

  8. June 8, 2010 12:48 pm

    Everyone seems to be loving this book, but I’m not sure it’s for me. I do like thrillers, but am not a fan or horror or post-apocalyptic books.

    • June 9, 2010 12:37 pm

      bermudaonion – I’m not a horror fan either, so that wouldn’t be an issue, but this book is pretty heavily post-apocalyptic, so maybe not for you.

  9. June 8, 2010 6:57 pm

    Great review! I remember my high school days of reading King and Koontz, and I’m glad this will somewhat plunge me into a similar atmosphere! My copy is in the mail, but with all the great reviews popping everywhere I cannot wait to read it. I’m glad you mentioned the radical shift though, because it would have surprised me too, and not in a good way!

    • June 9, 2010 12:40 pm

      Kay – I hope you enjoy it, and get the same nostalgic flashbacky feeling I did! What was your favorite Koontz book?

  10. June 8, 2010 7:17 pm

    I can’t read your review – I want to be totally without any opinions when I read it! I meant to get out today to buy it on release day, but tomorrow instead. Lucky you getting an ARC!!

    • June 9, 2010 12:40 pm

      Luanne – Oh, man, you’re going to have to stay totally off the internet for a while until you finish it, then, because it seems like this book is everywhere.

  11. June 8, 2010 9:50 pm

    Of course I’m automatically reminded of I Am Legend (the movie really freaked me out) but there’s something really that appeals to me about this one. Not too surprising considering The Stand is one of my favorite books…

    • June 9, 2010 12:41 pm

      Ladytink – I’ve seen it compared to The Stand in other places, too, although I (embarassingly) have not read that one, so I can’t speak to whether or not the comparison is justified.

  12. June 9, 2010 12:59 pm

    I had the same issues that you did with the book, but I think they bothered me more, to the point where I felt literally no creepiness or suspense at ALL. It was well-written, but needed a LOT cut out, I think.

    • June 14, 2010 10:40 am

      DoB – I agree that the creepiness was pretty front-loaded, and the New Colony parts could have been edited way down.

  13. June 9, 2010 10:14 pm

    I entered a giveaway for this book, and I’m really hoping I win. Although I think so many people are entering that my chances are pretty slim. I may have to buy it though as it sounds like it’s right up my alley.

    • June 14, 2010 10:46 am

      Trisha – They’re marketing this book so hard, I bet there are giveaways all over the place.

  14. June 11, 2010 2:27 am

    I feel like everybody and their dog has been talking about this book over the past couple of weeks, but this is the first time I’ve actually heard what it’s about. (That seems to happen to me all the time. I miss out on the initial buzz, and the secondary stuff isn’t descriptive enough because everyone else already knows what they’re talking about). I was thinking that it was one of those deep, literary things about cultural change. Zombpires sound rather more exciting. Also, creepy.

    • June 14, 2010 10:47 am

      Memory – Well, it certainly is about cultural change. It’s just cultural change instigated by roving hordes of zombpires. :)

  15. June 14, 2010 4:10 pm

    I’m actually considering taking this on vacation with me (if I can convince myself to purchase the hardcover – which I almost never do)!

    • June 23, 2010 11:31 am

      Stephanie – I never buy new hardcovers either (with the exception of Harry Potter), but this one will put your checked luggage over the weight limit for sure! :)

  16. Wayne permalink
    July 7, 2010 10:29 pm

    Wow, great story. I too was a bit lost when the story moved 90 year ahead after the first 100 pages. After I settled in to the story line and learned the new cast I could not put the book down. This is a must read for all scifi fans ands end of the world story lovers. This story will leave you wishing the second book was available.

  17. October 22, 2010 4:34 pm

    I just reviewed this book. I think we agree on a lot of its strengths. However, I just couldn’t get past the skipping around and the fast forwarding to another story.

    Great review! Very thorough.


  1. The Passage by Justin Cronin « Page247
  2. Local Lit – The Passage by Justin Cronin : Indie Reader Houston

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