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The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage by Justin Cronin
5
Book Name: The Passage
Author: Justin Cronin
Publisher(s): Ballantine Books
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook
Genre(s): Horror / Science Fiction / Literary Fiction
Release Date: June 8, 2010

Some books just demand to be read. You come across them by accident; maybe you were browsing in a bookshop or a friend makes a recommendation or perhaps you stumble across a review online. However you discover the book, something grabs your attention and you know you’ve got something special in your hands. Everything else gets forgotten as you disappear into the world within its pages.

The Passage by Justin Cronin is such a book.

While flicking through the latest edition of Entertainment Weekly, I came across an extract from the forthcoming sequel, The Twelve. An image accompanied it of a young red-headed woman battling vampires in a post-apocalyptic future. It was a cute image, appealing to the comic book lover inside of me but who really needs to read about more blood-suckers in a future world-gone-bad? But skimming the blurb, I noticed that Ridley Scott, the director of Blade Runner and Alien, had bought the film rights for $1.75 million. That was enough to get me to read the extract.

I was hooked.

I abandoned the book that I was in the midst of reading and began reading the first book, The Passage.

It captivated me in a way no book has done for a long time.

The book starts by introducing us to Amy. “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. Amy Harper Bellafonte.” Her mother is a single parent struggling to get by, making bad choices for the best of reasons, which lead the two of them on a tragic journey. Eventually Amy’s mother abandons her with the church in the hope they can give her a better life.

Meanwhile, Professor Jonas Lear is trying to “solve the greatest mystery of all – the mystery of death itself.” Grieving for a wife killed by cancer, he is searching for a virus that prolongs life and cures all illness. Named the NOAH project – “So all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years” – Lear thinks he is going to usher in a new golden age for mankind. Unfortunately, he accepts funding from the US Military who have not quite so noble goals. They wish to create super-soldiers, unstoppable killing machines to ensure America lives forever.

Deep within a mountain in Colorado, they experiment on twelve convicted murderers when things go horribly wrong. The Twelve develop vampire-like powers such as immortality, incredible strength, speed, aversion to light and, of course, blood lust. Seeking a new test subject, the order goes out to bring in an unwanted girl called Amy.

As Amy is injected with a new strain of the virus, the original Twelve break free. When they make their move, all it takes is “thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.”

The Twelve, at loose in the world, kill or infect in equal measure, creating a monstrous army of “virals”. They sweep across the States, wiping out the population. Few survivors remain, kept safe behind high walls and electric fences, living in fear of when their defences are not enough to stop the monsters.

The First Colony is one such enclave in California, living day by day, until, ninety years after the outbreak, a teenage girl appears out of nowhere, bringing with her mankind’s only hope to save the world. Her name is Amy.

The tension is almost unbearable throughout the book and, just when you think things can’t get worse, they inevitably do. Cronin, in creating the virals, has managed to put the horror back into vampires. They are monsters to be truly feared and a reason to be afraid of the dark once more. Even so, he doesn’t shy from giving them depth as well and we understand the tragedy within them, driving the virals on against their will to destroy all around them.

Told through a variety of point-of-views, Cronin creates an intensely intimate portrait of each character that makes their pain and suffering more real and, when they experience small victories, the moments are all the sweeter. Whether it is Amy, the girl with the secret in her blood or Alicia, the vampire killer, or Maus, trying to protect her unborn baby, Cronin puts them all equally through hell and back, taking the reader along the way.

Yes, The Passage is a post-apocalyptic vampire horror story, and an incredibly exciting one at that, but it is also so much more. At its heart, it is a tale of families, both those created by blood and those created by circumstance. It examines what it means to be a parent and the responsibilities and sacrifices necessary to ensure the best for one’s children because the future, whatever it may be, belongs to them and, with them, lies our hope. “A baby was a fact. It was a being with a mind and a nature, and you could feel about it any way you liked, but a baby wouldn’t care. Just by existing, it demanded that you believe in a future: the future it would crawl in, walk in, live in. A baby was a piece of time; it was a promise you made that the world made back to you.”

The Passage is a beautifully written, intelligent book that transcends genre, as thrilling as it is terrifying. It’s unusual in this day and age to read such a thought-provoking book that still maintains its commercial appeal and that is, perhaps, what makes it so unique. It is a story of hope and redemption amid the most horrifying of circumstance and a test of man’s ability to endure no matter what. I cannot wait to find out what happens next.

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Rating: 7.5/10 (11 votes cast)
The Passage by Justin Cronin, 7.5 out of 10 based on 11 ratings
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2 Comments

  1. Alister says:

    Great review of a great book, one of the best I’ve read for a long time. I reviewed this last year, pleased to see that others rate it so highly.
    Totally agree with the comment that Cronin has put the horror back into vampires again – they’re truly terrifying.

  2. Not-So-Bloody-Nine says:

    Incidentally, I happen to be in the middle of reading this novel (about two-thirds of the way through)

    I’m liking it a fair bit, but not all the way to loving it. It’s a good read, but there is a fair amount of filler thrown in, too. There are plenty of parts which involve characters reminiscing about past events, and a few too many flashbacks. There were even some spots where the flashbacks had characters reminiscing about events even *further* in the past, which I thought was pretty irritating.

    Although, I don’t know if the virals can truly be called vampires. More like a cross between zombies (infected by virus in experiment gone wrong; seemingly mindless and aggressive; partially deformed humanoid appearance) and vampires (sensitivity to light; drink blood; superhuman speed, strength and agility).

    On the whole, it’s a good novel. I guess I’ll have to wait and see how the rest of it turns out, and there will be two sequels so the story will definitely not *end* here. So I guess we’ll see.

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