by Justin Cronin
A new virus appears in the not-so-distant future. Vicious and deadly, the disease has some unique properties that could prove useful if scientists can harness only the good side effects. But, the government has another purpose in mind.
A dozen death-row inmates have become the subject of human experimentation designed to turn them into weapons. The results are horrifying: vampire-like creatures with glowing eyes, sharp teeth, tremendous strength, a dramatically slowed aging process and a craving for blood. After government scientists have turned 12 deadly men into horrible creatures, two FBI agents are sent to pick up another test subject. This time, it's a little girl.
When all of the infected subjects escape, the virus rapidly spreads across North America, wiping out most of the population and turning the rest into blood-thirsty creatures known as "smokes", "jumps" or "virals".
Nearly a hundred years later, a small community of survivors is in danger of losing their only protection. The batteries that power their viral-repelling lights are failing. Without lights, there's no hope for survival. When a silent young girl wanders into their camp, a young man in the community named Peter discovers that she may hold the key, not only to their settlement's survival but also to the recovery of the human race. But a long and arduous journey through the dangerous land now overrun with deadly creatures is their only hope. And, the virals are growing stronger.
I finished reading my copy of The Passage, an advanced reader, the day before publication: June 7. By the time of its release, The Passage had already been hyped to proportions as epic as the book itself with Stephen King's enthusiastic recommendation helping to push the fervor, as you surely know. I didn't feel like I needed to immediately sit down and add to the publicity machine; there were other books I still hadn't gotten around to reviewing and I was curious whether the book would stick with me. A month later, I can tell you it has stuck with me just fine.
Normally, I am not a reader of books that you could refer to as "epic". I tend to like spare but lyrical writing without a lot of unnecessary detail and am of the opinion that most chunksters could stand to lose 100 pages, if not more. In this case, I was kind of stunned to find that I pretty much felt the opposite; I had trouble leaving the world inside its pages and went into a brief but miserable reading slump after I finished.
There were moments that I thought The Passage dragged a bit and it took me about 30 pages to really get sucked into the book; but, once I was immersed in that strange future world of scary virals and its ragged little band of survivors, I couldn't bear to read anything else. I set aside all of my other reads and focused on the book. I had to know what was going to happen and I was surprised to find that I relished the detailed descriptions that gave The Passage such a fabulous sense of time and place.
What I disliked about The Passage:
Not much, but it's not perfect. As I said, there were moments that the story dragged. There were also a few small passages that were a little too vague and dream-like (and, therefore, confusing -- usually involving the little girl, Amy, who is apparently clairvoyant). Occasionally there is some repetitive monologue that has to do with the buried humanity still inside those creatures and their ability to inject their dangerous thoughts into human dreams. That was a little annoying but certainly not enough to pull me out of the book long enough to reject it.
Finally, there was one incident that quite simply could not occur as the author described it. If I could ask the author one question, it would be, "Did you deliberately choose to take artistic license with this particular scenario or did you simply not do your research?" because the novel struck me as otherwise well researched. But, I've been to the location in which the scene occurred and I know what exactly was changed and why it could not happen as written. That particular scene nagged at me for a while. Then, I deliberately chose to assume the author had decided to alter the locale to his satisfaction and moved on.
What I loved about The Passage:
Justin Cronin is a rocking fine world builder. The future he created is believable and fascinating. I think that's what I loved the most -- imagining myself inside that world and questioning what I would do in the same situations, getting to know a unique set of characters who were so well described, so utterly three-dimensional that I would likely know one from another if I were to step into their fictional world. Some were heroic or foolish, some led by fear or selfishness. The characters had a broad range of personalities and, like real humans, were often a little unpredictable.
I would classify the book as tense more than horrifying, although there were two or three situations I found particularly unnerving and those were the only times I read with all the lights on. I was always able to read at night, although my mind kept playing with the storyline while I slept and I'd awaken to the memory of vivid dreams in which virals were trying to get into my head. They weren't nightmares, though, or at least they didn't feel like nightmares to me. I liked the fact that the book was not so terrifying that I could only read during the daylight hours and I loved the variety of characters and personalities in the book.
The language of the future world was also believable; language is altered over time and the new idiom was not so far removed from the language of the present. Individual words made sense in context and in regard to the world in which characters lived.
A unique, satisfying and well-written tale of a terrifying disease, a ravaged world and the courage and hope still remaining amongst survivors for the eventual restoration of humanity. The fact that the creatures known as virals are vampire-like, but very different from the classic mostly-human vampires kept the book from feeling like just another vampire story. I will be eagerly awaiting the next installment, which comes out in 2012. As a movie, I'd expect this book to have an "R" rating for violence; it can be a little gory and disturbing.
My thanks to Random House/Ballantine for the advance reader's edition.
In other news:
I am on Day 4 of a pretty intense migraine but felt like I really needed to get this review written. Depending on how I feel, it might take a few days to get another review posted so please forgive my sporadic posting.
Just walked in:
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer - from HarperPerennial for a TLC Book Tour
Wicked Company by Ciji Ware - from Sourcebooks for review
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler - a library sale find, published in 1979 and still relevant
Just started reading but will probably finish tonight because I'm enjoying it so much:
Bellwether by Connie Willis - recommended by the Very Patient Carrie K, a delightful blogging friend with excellent taste in books, admirable knitting skill and a pleasing affection for cats.
Bookfool, off to get an ice pack for her sore head
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