Book review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

Cover of "Rose Madder"

Cover of Rose Madder

If there is one thing I cannot resist it is the lure of the printed word. Never has it happened that I have visited a bookstore and walked out empty handed. The last time I entered into one, I walked out with four books in tow, one of which was The Passage by Justin Cronin. Before buying the book I went through some reviews on Amazon, read the back cover a million times, read a few pages of the book to see if I liked the writing style. I kept the book back, wandered around in search of another book, and then came back and picked it up again, oh, about a gazillion times! Why? Because this isn’t the kind of book I typically read. The comparisons with Stephen King left me cold – I liked just two of his books – Carrie and Rose Madder; I’m not a big fan of science fiction, medical research gone bad, zombies and vampires. So I had no idea why I ended up buying this book.

Once I returned home and crammed it onto my overflowing bookshelf, I would often look at it balefully, asking myself what I was thinking to have bought it. So when I decided to read the darn thing and get it over with, I thought the going would be slow, the book intolerable, and maybe it would be another of those very few books that I would be forced to leave unread.

But I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

The first part of the novel gallops full speed ahead, outlining the discovery and creation of an immunity-boosting drug based on a virus carried by a species of bat in South America, its test on 12 death-row subjects and finally on a six-year old girl called Amy, all of whom are brought in by FBI agents Brad Wolgost and Phil Doyle. The virus turns the 12 into vampires, who manage to break out of the maximum security facility where they are kept and the world as we know it changes forever. (If this plot line makes you think of Resident Evil, it’s a bit similar, but only a bit.)

Cover of "The Passage"

Cover of The Passage

Fast forward about 90 years, and you’re introduced to an entirely new cast of characters. These are the inhabitants of First Colony, who appear to be the only humans to have survived the outbreak of the vampire attack. Governed by the Document of One Law that lays out the daily routine and work assignments of all the souls within the walls of the colony, they have no contact with the outside world and stave off the virals (vampires) with the help of lights running on wind energy and members of the Watch, who guard the walls of the colony. They use horses for transport, grow their own food and scavenge the malls for clothes. It’s a completely different world, and one that is extremely believable.

A lot of reviews I read when deciding weather or not to purchase the book said that the jump between centuries was disorienting, that it took really long to settle in to the new characters, and that it was almost like reading two different books – I experienced nothing of the sort. The transition between the times is made through “A journal entry by Ida Jaxon (“The Book of Auntie”)” in which she chronicles how the army evacuated children from Philadelphia to First Colony, which prepares you for the time switch.

Amy makes her entry once again about mid-way through the novel, and from thereon the book takes another twist, as some members from First Colony embark on a journey to escort her back to Colorado to the hospital where she was injected with the virus. The rest of the novel follows their journey and the many startling discoveries they make along the way.

Once I started reading, this 766-page tome took firm hold of me, leaving me breathless, eyes feverishly running through the pages, unmindful of the time or place. I was up nights, late for work and ignorant of the need to eat. I was right there with Amy and Wolgost in the car, in the hospital and on the run. I was in the First Colony, with Peter and Susan and Auntie. I joined Peter, Susan, Alicia, Micheal and Mausami as they embarked on the journey to get Amy back to Colorado. I was with them as they made one startling discovery after another during their Long Walk.

Overall, The Passage is an edge-of-your-seat nail-bitingly good suspense thriller that addresses the perils of military greed and the depth of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. It will grab you by the hand and pull you along for a rip-roaring ride, at the end of which you’ll be left gasping, waiting for 2012, and the second part of this trilogy.

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4 responses to “Book review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

  1. The plot sounds strangely familiar — by any chance did they base a Will Smith movie on this book? The book actually sounds quite intriguing. I remember thinking as we watched the movie (Soy Leyenda in Spanish, no idea what it was called in English), “This could have been a really great story.” The movie was a flop. lol

    Great review! You make me want to run out and buy the book — and I’m not much of a fiction reader! :)

    I’m in your small group over at SITS. Looking forward to reading more of your work!

  2. Just finished reading The Passage – though I thought it was evocative, well-written and a good read I also had some issues that irked the hell out of me. Still looking forward to reading The Twelve — have you read it yet?

    And to answer Rebecca, that Will Smith movie was loosely based on Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, I Am Legend.

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