galleycat's Reviews > The Passage

The Passage by Justin Cronin
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Jul 20, 10

Read from June 19 to July 03, 2010

** spoiler alert ** All that beach-book buzz you're hearing these days is almost certainly for "The Passage," Justin Cronin's big-as-a-brick apocalyptic vampire saga.

One part Stephen King's "The Stand," one part Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," this dark, humorless, 784-page morality tale is the opening act for Cronin's ambitious trilogy about a military experiment gone horribly bad.

The marketing machine for this thing is in overdrive: $3.7 million for the three-book deal, $1.7 million for the rights to the first movie, over-the-top reviews, and, drum roll, please ... a breathless jacket blurb from the "King" of horror himself.

And if all that isn't enough, "Passage" has been hyped to the hyperbolic heavens by just about everyone with a book blog as the summer's big "It" blockbuster.

Well, wait. Not so fast.

The book does get off to a spectacularly great start. But ultimately, it stumbles and staggers under the weight of all the hype and Cronin's inability to sustain the pace and promise of his first 200 brilliant pages.

The novel turns on the U.S. Army's botched experiments to breed immortal, indestructible super-soldiers by injecting them with tricked-up serums from a vampiric bat virus discovered deep in the Bolivian jungle, using 12 expendable death-row inmates and an abandoned 9-year-old girl named Amy as the test subjects.

Instead, the 12 inmates transmute into vicious, vampirelike creatures who escape and then quickly decimate an entire nation of on-the-run humans with their infectious bites. Before long, just about everyone's dead, infected or controlled telepathically by an exponentially expanding army of vampires, called "virals" and "dracs" in the book.

These aren't your romanticized "Twilight"-like vampires, by the way. No, sir. (The message here, I suspect, is that if you're going to play Russian roulette with Bolivian bat serum, don't use convicted murderers in your clinical trials. Just saying.)

Although Amy doesn't mutate into a bloodthirsty viral, for reasons we probably won't find out until the second or third book, she can no longer stand sunlight, ages super-slowly, and communicates mostly through paranormal whispers.

This is just about where the book fast-forwards nearly a hundred years, to a barricaded outpost in the San Jacinto mountains where a small band of survivors lives under bright night lights powered by dying generators to keep the nocturnal virals away.

Most of the colonists have never even seen the night sky or stars.

Soon enough, Amy shows up at the colony as the mysterious, ageless girl with viral-like qualities who may hold the genetic key to mankind's survival ---- if her small but brave band of uninfected humans can survive the dangerous journey back to her "birth" place in the Army's secret laboratories in a Colorado mountain compound.

The first 200 pages of the book are undeniably fantastic, filled with more memorable characters and scenes and tension than most writers wring out in 500 pages. This is seriously good writing ---- the kind of can't-catch-your breath storytelling that propels us forward while demanding that we read every beautiful, perfectly placed word.

Then it all starts to crumble, partly because we're introduced to a new cast of characters after the 100-year leap forward who don't carry our interest as much as the ones we've just left behind, and partly because we begin to sense logical lapses in the storytelling.

Why, for example, wouldn't the two colonists who discover that the generators are failing convene a big meeting with everyone to brainstorm solutions instead of keeping it to themselves to avoid a panic? (What ---- no one's going to panic when blood-sucking, body-shredding vampires overrun the outpost after the lights go out? Really?)

The book has too many ensemble-type characters for readers to become attached to most of them (good thing; lots of them don't last long). And, frankly, they tend to blend together, with indistinguishable personalities and names like Peter and Michael, and are quickly replaced by other generic characters after they're killed or disappear.

The bigger problem, though, is that the character we care about most, the ageless girl Amy, communicates only occasionally in frustratingly short, cryptic, paranormal conversations. She's mostly quiet and passive in this first book, when she's even on the page at all. Even the zombielike virals don't leap out of the shadows often enough in a book where they're center stage.

It's a curious choice to take the story's two most interesting elements ---- Amy and the virals ---- and banish them to the sidelines for long stretches, or worse, to turn them into one-dimensional, secondary characters.

Talk about your buzz kill.

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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by LJ (new) - rated it 4 stars

LJ good review indeed - however I would have appreciated a spoiler alert...


galleycat LJ wrote: "good review indeed - however I would have appreciated a spoiler alert ..."

My bad, LJ. Still pretty new to all the bells and whistles in here. Went looking for the spoiler alert box after seeing your note here.


Gordon Deloach Just finished this book and this review is spot on. I stalled for weeks around page 450 out of boredom. And I constantly had to look back to keep the names/characters correct.


Birgit Alsinger Thank you for a spot-on review Galleycat


Laurie Love your review. You are hilarious. You said what I wanted to say except a lot more eloquently and funnier!


message 6: by Checkman (new) - added it

Checkman I plan on reading this book, but obviously I am waiting until I find a used copy. I knew that with all the hype it wouldn't live up to all the ...... uh......hype? Well anyway good review.


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