The Passage by Justin Cronin

Just finished this last night and I have to say I think the hype is pretty much justified. I have some quibbles of course, but this is the rare book that works well as a horror/action/adventure story but is also smart and beautifully written with compelling characters.

The Passage is about a world overrun by vampire-like "Virals." The story spans a little over a hundred years from the inception of the plague that creates the Virals, to a time when Americas society as we know it is gone and the few remaining humans are just barely holding on.

The first third or so of the book largely follows Brad Wolgast, an FBI agent tasked with convincing death row inmates to be a part of a series of medical trials that eventually lead to the creation of the viral plague. Wolgast goes about his job, grimly resigned, until his military superiors instruct him bring in a young orphan named Amy to be a part of the project.

Cronin does an amazing job in this section of creating and rounding out the characters of Wolgast and Amy and developing a relationship between them that is very touching. What's most impressive to me though is how Cronin takes the time to even round out relatively minor characters like the inmates, the military workers, a briefly seen group of nuns. This is what sets this book apart from the pack for me. The characters and their relationships. Cronin goes into far more detail here than you would expect in what could easily be the literary equivalent of a big summer popcorn movie.

The second part of the book is set a hundred years later. Here we're introduced to a small band of survivors living in a crumbling holdout somewhere in California. Not long into their story, circumstances lead some of them to leave their camp and venture out into the wider world, hoping maybe they can make an impact on the post plague world. The majority of the book follows their journey across the country. (Despite the time jump Cronin does connect the first and second sections of the book satisfactorily, but I won't get into to how he does it cause it's nifty.)

This second section is the only place I had real problems with the book. It introduces us to a much larger cast of characters,  enough that I had trouble keeping them all straight at times, and I never felt as strongly about them, or felt I knew them as well, as the smaller cast of the first section. Where the first section runs deep, the second section is broad. I guess I preferred the deeper end of the pool

Other quibbles? There are some action movie moments that seem a bit over the top. He also leans on some stock situations and characters. A chosen one, a power mad and reckless military, a seemingly happy town with a dark secret. He handles these things well but they do seem pretty familiar. Oh, he's also not above the "Oh no! A main character is about to die! Oops just kidding!" fake out. It happens a couple times and rankled a bit.

All in all these are small things. I really enjoyed this. Cronin writes beautifully and poetically, the world and the societies in it are detailed and interesting, the monsters are scary (and sad too in a way) and the story moved a a good pace. I definitely look forward to the next book in the series.

Oh, as a heads up, this is 100% a novel for adults. I  figured with post-apocalyptic setting and the hype surrounding it it'd be a good one for folks like us to be aware of.

Any of you all read it yet? Plan to? Thoughts?

11 comments:

doctorcrankenstein said...

Originally I wasn't going to, I dismissed it as just another crappy vampire novel following in Twilights wake...

This has made me reconsider that

maybe...

Julia Karr said...

Not usually my genre cup 'o tea, Jeff - but I might have to give it a try after reading your review!

Angie said...

Thanks for the review, Jeff. I might give it a try!

Kay said...

Definitely want to read this...waiting for the library to get a copy to lend me.

Jeff Hirsch said...

Thanks for the comments guys. Give it a try! It is indeed about as far from Twilight as it could possibly get!

Zoe C. Courtman said...

Thanks for sharing this! I'm struggling to get through THE PASSAGE right now. I hit that second section you mentioned and ran SMACK into a wall. Just not feeling it - he totally lost me. BUT I'm pressing on through the end, hoping it'll turn back around. Great review!

loislane said...

I've written it on my "to read" list. Thanks for the review.

Kristi Helvig said...

I bought this book on a whim this past weekend. I can't wait to start it, as it sounds like my kind of book. Thanks for sharing your opinion--you're the first person I know who has read it. :)

Kim said...

I'm reading it now and loving it! If you liked The Passage you would probably enjoy Swan Song by Robert McCammon.

ClaireLines said...

I'm currently reading The Passage, and I've hit that wall that a few others have commented on. The first section was unputdown-able, and I was desparate to know more about Zero. I think there's a gap between the first section of the novel, where the miltaristic plot hints at the nature of the "virals", as they are later called, and their population in the second section. I'm sure this was intentional, but I found it frustrating. I'm sure it'll be fleshed out later in the book, as I'm only two thirds in, but I would've liked it from the persepctive of Grey, who I quite enjoyed as a character. Cronin's characterisation has been compared to King's, I believe falsely; where King delves into unecessary detail, Cronin fleshes out a character in an intruiging and in-depth way. It's a refreshing change from some other novels I've read in this vein recently, and it's one of the things which firmly secures The Passage as an adult's novel. Grey's foggy past as a possible sexual criminal is testament to this. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this book!

Oh, I'm Claire, of The Browser's Bookshelf, where I write about books and other media, and I love this blog :)

www.browswersbookshelf.wordpress.com

Rowena Hailey said...

Another great review Jeff. This book sounds really interesting, and it is always nice to see something live up to the hype. Thanks!

Rowena Hailey (H1 Accessories)