Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage
by Justin Cronin
Copyright 2010
Ballantine Books
766 pages

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.

Bottom line:

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

Just finished:

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.

Happy Reading!

Bookfool, off to get an ice pack for her sore head

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are not reading this post at Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. Now I'm curious to know what incident couldn't have happened as he described! Do tell. I'm wondering if I'm familiar with the locale too, and just totally missed it.

  2. Suey,

    It's the polar bear scene that took place at the Memphis Zoo, when Amy was staying with the nuns.

  3. Viral vampires and not undead creatures? I'm horribly tempted because, well, plagues and apocalyptic future. What could be more delightful? There. I'm overlooking the vampires. I wanted to read it anyway.

    Bellwether will be a nice change of pace! It's cute.

  4. Ouch on the headache aspect..hope it feels better soon!
    As to the review, I'll admit to being a bit hesitant at reading this book because of all the hype. After reading your review though I am more excited to read it so thanks for sharing your thoughts on it!

  5. I'm so sorry about your head first of all :( I'm on something like day 6 of this migraine. I've seriously lost count at this point. Don't you just get sick of these?

    This book has been everywhere lately, but when I do get to it I PROMISE that the point will go to YOU! LOL. I did have a book walk into my house today with a point headed in your direction for the next bad bloggers's Billy Collins' Sailing Alone Around the Room! I'm really looking forward to it :)

    Hope you feel better Nancy!

  6. I read The Passage (but have yet to post my review). Unlike you, I think that book needed a good dose of editing, to get rid of the repetitive stuff. I did enjoy the book, but certainly didn't love it. But that's just my humble opinion!

  7. Shockingly Patient Carrie,

    Haha! I knew I could get ya. LOL Yep, they're not undead; they're really just mutations and, of course, the whole post-apocalyptic world thing is always loads of fun as long as there's a little hint of light at the end of the tunnel, in my humble opinion.

    Bellwether is a hoot. If I can keep my eyes open, I should finish it, tonight. But, who knows whether that will happen. Migraines are exhausting.


    My headache is under control, right now, thank goodness. Hopefully, it'll stay away for good. Thanks for the good wishes. :)

    I'm glad you're tempted. They hype surrounding The Passage really has been pretty insane. I'm almost positive I wouldn't have touched it if I hadn't gotten an advanced reader. I'm a rebellious chick and tend to avoid books that get such a tidal wave of attention, but I am very glad I read it. I hope you like it as much as I did.

  8. Chris,

    Oh, man, sorry you're in the same boat I'm in. Migraines suck. I ran out of Maxalt and nothing else was working, so I've just been useless the entire week. I'm feeling better at the moment, thanks. I hope you feel better soon, too!!!

    I think you'll have to give half of America a point for The Passage! It's unbelievable how much publicity it's gotten. I was really surprised how much I enjoyed it, but I don't suppose I should be. I like futuristic, post-apocalyptic worlds, in general, and I thought this particular world was really fascinating because there was a lot to think about.

    Sailing Alone Around the Room . . . ack, need to get back to that one. It's one of those books that I was enjoying and then inexplicably set aside. I hope you love it. :)


    I think it was just that I liked the world Cronin created so much; normally, I am really not a fan of wordy, thick novels but I loved being immersed in that world and really did get totally sucked into it to the point that I couldn't bear to look at another book. It's not for everyone, though; I've read a few reviews with similar sentiments to yours -- too long, it dragged, needed editing. Lots of comparisons to The Stand, too, but I've never read The Stand so I don't have any basis for comparison. That's probably a good thing.

  9. I hope your head is feeling much better. I have about 200 pages of The Passage left to read, and I'm truly impressed so far. Can't wait to write my own review, though with so much hype like this I sometimes feel like it's a moot point. Loved yours! Loved!

  10. Andiloo,

    I'm feeling much better at the moment, thanks. Hopefully, I've met the end of this migraine (fingers and toes crossed).

    I felt very much like you do -- all that hype, what difference is one more review going to make? I considered just writing how I felt about it, rather than writing the usual summary and then babbling on, the way I always do, but I had such fun reading it (I was impressed, too -- I could visualize the author with stacks of books, sweating away at his research) that I realized I had a lot to say.

    Thank you! I'm glad you liked my review! I can't wait to read yours! :)

  11. Sending good vibes to counteract the headache!

    I've added The Passage to my list and will be checking to see if the library has anything on the list I've created this morning!

  12. Jenclair,

    Thanks! No headache, today, so I'm happy. :)

    I hope you find some of the books on your list. I've heard the waiting lists for The Passage can be horrendous.

  13. Sounds like this book is a winner...even though there is all this hype around it. I tend to stay away from those books until the hype dies down...I had effectively decided not to buy the book until it came out in paperback, but maybe I should change my mind?!

  14. "am of the opinion that most chunksters could stand to lose 100 pages, if not more." -- That's me too! :)

    Glad to hear you really enjoyed this one Nancy. I don't know if I'm going to sort of let the hype settle down a while before I get to it though but I do want to read it.

    Feel better!

  15. There's going to be another installment? Guess I'd better start reading! You did a great job describing the book and it sounds like something I'll want to read ... just as soon as I finish my 924 page book by George R.R. Martin. Seems like everything I pick up lately is a chunkster! Hope the headache goes away quickly. I know how those can be.

  16. Serena,

    I tend to stay away from over-hyped books, too. I'm glad I got to read The Passage early on, if only because it was too early for the hype to turn me off! I'd hate to have missed it.

    As to buying the hardcover vs. paperback -- I like to buy paperback versions of really thick books, myself, because they flop open nicely and I have a little trouble holding thick books. So, it really just depends on what you prefer. I'm never in a big hurry to buy, myself, and it might ease your mind a bit to wait till the big to-do dies down. :)


    I don't think it hurts to wait, but that's just me. I loved the book and I'm really glad I read it when I did. At this point, I'd probably be totally turned off by the heavy publicity if I hadn't. It does get irritating.

    Thanks! I went to a new neurologist, today, and I have a whole big plan (it involves plenty of napping -- I like) to try to minimize my migraines, so I'm happy! :)


    Yes, actually there are going to be 2 sequels -- the first released in 2012 and the second in 2014. So, you could conceivably wait for the boxed set that will inevitably show up in 2014, but it's worth getting your mitts on before then, in my humble opinion. I know not everyone loves it, but I sure did.

    I just bought my son a George R.R. Martin book because he reads so fast his opinion is "the thicker, the better". Shhh! Don't tell! I'm saving it for a rainy day. :)

  17. I trust your opinion and now I see that Andi's loving it too, so once Rod's read it, I'll give it a try. I don't mind the chunkster epics (loved World Without End!), but I've got to be in the right mood for one.

    Sent from my iPad at 30,000 feet. :)

  18. I'll get to this one eventually. RIght now I want to read the books they based the move Julie/Julia on. :)

  19. Les,

    Well, we all know Andi has shockingly good taste. Not sure about me, but I liked it. :)

    You definitely should not throw your iPad that high.


    I still haven't gotten to Julie & Julia, either. And, I haven't seen the movie. Someday . . .

  20. You're made of sterner stuff than I am, apparently... for about a week, I had a hard time turning out my bedside lamp after reading this book. If the lights go out, the vampires will eat me!

  21. Fyrefly,

    Usually, I'm a total wimp, but I think part of the deal is that I saw the book as more of a survival story than a vampire novel. There were only a couple things that really freaked me out. One was the moment when the fellow with bad eyesight was talking and nobody answered him . . . and then he heard a rip noise, like the sound of tearing paper. shiver

  22. Oh how I do miss reading your have I not been on here recently? *ponders* Anywho...your review? Loved it! I often avoid the chunksters myself, mostly due to limited reading time and an EPIC is a bit harder to pick up put down pick up put down, etc. I did wonder about this one though...sometimes the more a book is hyped, especially compared to other big namers, it makes me question it more, but this one DOES sound interesting. I think it just made it's way onto my wish list. *looks...yep, there it is* Thanks for sharing...and happy reading! ^_^
    (Oh and I do hope your migraine subsides soon...4 days, you poor thing!)

  23. GMR,

    Maybe you need the reminder tweets. I've hardly tweeted at all, this summer (and probably will continue not to say much on Twitter till fall). Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the review.

    Yep, I avoid chunkstery epicish novels, too, although this year I actually have deliberately tried to relax (quit fretting about the quantity of books I read) and enjoy more fat books. The Passage really was unusual in that I didn't feel like I needed other books going to help maintain my sanity. Usually, with a chunkster, I need lots of breaks. But, I just wanted to stay immersed in that world. It might have just been my mood, but I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I'm really looking forward to the next book in 2012.

    No migraine, today, thanks. It was all good -- except for that bit about having to drop the husband off so he can go somewhere fabulous without me, yet again. I hate that.

  24. Everyone seems to be loving The Passage, but I'm not totally convinced it's for me. I hope you're feeling better.

  25. Kathy,

    I don't think The Passage is for everyone and I'd guess it's not your thing, just judging from your typical reading material.

  26. Good review! You already know my review of the book. It REALLY dragged for me. However, I will still be reading the next one!!!

    Life by Candlelight

  27. Amy,

    Yep, and I keep thinking I need to read The Stand, since your review. Maybe you'll like the next book better. I can't believe we have to wait 2 years for the second installment.

  28. Forgot to say "thank you". Thanks, Amy!


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