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Book Review! The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage weighs in at 784 pages and doesn’t fit neatly into anything but a backpack, but trust me: don’t let the size intimidate you (uh, baby). It’s worth the read. All right, fine. You don’t have to trust me. But I bet you’ll trust Stephen King! His take on The Passage is completely accurate, “Read fifteen pages and you will find yourself captivated; read thirty and you will find yourself taken prisoner and reading late into the night. It has the vividness that only epic works of fantasy and imagination can achieve.”.

Truth be told, the description of this book didn’t get my literary senses tingling. It doesn’t do it a whole lot of justice, at least not in my opinion. (You can find the description on my last new releases post.) Another horror novel about secret military experiments gone wrong? Great. Thrilling. A real blockbuster idea. Pfffftttt. Right?


The Passage depicts a world that has irreversibly changed after a scientific experiment goes apocalyptic. The prose is great. Really, really great. It starts off strong and never wanes. The timeline is a little strange at first, and seems a lot like one giant LSD flashback, (especially when it pops a century into the future a bit later) but it doesn’t detract from the story. In fact, nothing in this book is particularly detrimental to it. I mean, the pace does feel a bit strange, but it’s the good variety of strangeness, not the kind that requires you take lengthy breaks from reading to get a grip on the story. I also think this could easily have been a bit shorter but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading everything that was there.

All right, so the obvious problem some people might have? Yes, it’s a vampire novel.  But rest assured that it’s not that kind of vampire novel! If you’re a Twilight fan, looking for Twilighty vampires, don’t read this book. There aren’t any sparkly, pretty boys waiting in the wings to steal your figurative heart here. There ARE “Virals” (Cronin’s newly defined vampires), who would probably steal it in the literal sense, if that’s your bag.

The first part of this novel is all about the backstory. We learn about Amy, a very special young girl with a heartbreaking past. The characters are tremendously in-depth here. We also learn about the virus, where it came from and why the government wants it. No big surprise there — super solider serum, anybody? That’s a common evil plot, but this one is just interesting enough to work. Here we are introduced to the “recruits” who eventually (and not unexpectedly) bust out of their captivity after being injected with aforementioned virus.

We jump a couple years ahead and get a good look at exactly what happened after the experiment went to Hell. Most of the population is either dead or “viral” now and the remaining survivors are struggling for their lives. This part is very reminiscent of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, but in a good way. (As in: it doesn’t feel like a total ripoff.) Ever wonder how long batteries last or what you might REALLY need if the world suddenly ended? There’s a great depiction here.

Ninety five years later, we find a whole host of new characters, descendants of the early survivors. They’re holed up in a lit compound in California and surviving on the scraps of technology left over from before. There are many parallels to be drawn here with this future society and our current one, but I won’t get into those.

The ending? Well. I won’t get into that either, you’ll have to read it for yourself. My only problem with this book was I found myself eager to skip ahead and find out everything I could and you know what? Don’t do that. You’ll just be REALLY pissed when you Google it and realize that it’s only the first book of an impending trilogy.

Personally, I can’t wait for whatever comes next. If the following books are anything at all like this, we’re going to be presented with an absolute powerhouse of a series. Can a first book be a powerhouse on its own? Well, if anything could, it’s certainly The Passage.

Now go read, my book nerds, and spread some literacy!

Image: Ballantine Books

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  1. Trent says:

    Justin Cronin’s sequel, “The Twelve,” finally came out today and I”m looking forward to cracking that spine! If you didn’t take Jessica Barton’s advice two years ago on The Nerdist and read “The Passage” when it first came out, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do. For those of you that need too refresh your memory, I’ve written a comprehensive plot summary on my website called The Plot Spot: The Passage plot summary

  2. Tammi says:

    Yes The Passage was awesome and so is The Strain Trilogy. Going to Barnes and Noble to pick the sequel to The Passage… THE TWELVE… Finally! I didnt October 16 (the release date) was ever to come!

  3. Dawn says:

    Crap on a graham cracker. A trilogy! ACK! 😀 I just picked it up and am on page 68 and promptly told everyone around me to shut it. I am reading and will not be bothered. I too was a little wary at the description but, you guessed it, as soon as I heard Stephen King was endorsing it I went out and picked up a copy. I’m right there with you Jessica on wanting to read ahead and am trying very hard not too. 😀

    If I might make a suggestion, another great vampire story that doesn’t included Romeo & Juliet themes and “sparkles” is a trilogy by Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan. The first book is called The Strain. Very good read. 😀

  4. Lisa says:

    Just added it to my Amazon wishlist!

  5. RickL says:

    I have just started reading it. I like that Jenna Bush is the Governor of Texas.

  6. stubby says:

    It sounds like a good read. I am definitely going to pick it up.

  7. Nice! I actually really liked The Road, so I’ll check this out. I’m a sucker for the post-Apocalypse.

    As long as the virals don’t sparkle, I’m in. Seriously, what I wouldn’t give to see one of those Twilight vampires go into the sun and just explode into a pile of ash like they’re SUPPOSED to. Jerks.