I am not usually one for big books; I get bored, restless and a sore arm. For this reason I put off reading the almost 800-pages-long The Passage by Justin Cronin until the week before it was due back at the library. But this book was so addictive, so gripping and so wonderful that I finished it in under a week (being hit by a cold and having two sick days probably helped… but still). I’ve looked back over the posts by other bloggers linked at the bottom of the page and they all describe The Passage with the similar terms “page-turner” (Novel Insights), “addictive” (Savidge Reads and All the Books I Can Read), “faced-paced” and “enthralling” (Page Turners). And it really is.
To describe the plot of The Passage in a way that both does it justice and avoids misconceptions is a difficult task. Basically there are two main sections: one set in the present day, followed by one decades into the future. In the present day we meet Wolgast, a government agent tasked with convincing death row inmates to participate in a scientific testing for a government program in exchange for a lesser sentence of lifelong incarceration. It becomes clear that the virus injected into the subjects, with the hopes of discovering a way to prolong human life, has in fact caused them to mutate into monsters, or vampires. The twelve subjects break out into the world and bring about the apocalypse. Just before the outbreak and ensuing bloodbath, a six-year-old girl named Amy is experimented on and survives the experience without changing into a vampire.
The setting then shifts to the future, in an enclosed settlement of people attempting to shelter from the virals, who have killed or “taken up” most of North America’s population, and perhaps the world’s. It is with the characters in this small colony fighting for survival that the reader spends the majority of the book.
I’ve tried not to reveal too much more than the inside flap of the book makes clear, but since it’s such an epic book even that description encompasses a lot. I felt it was important to at least briefly outline the future section because that’s where the reader spends the most time and I felt the tone shifted considerably between the two time frames, from very bleak and to something more like the tone of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; a thrilling, but completely necessary, sometimes deadly and inescapable adventure.
A lot has been made of The Passage being a book about vampires, but the vampires here are so animalistic and lacking in humanity, except for in brief moments. They can’t even speak verbally like a usual vampire can, but they are sensitive to light and drink blood. The descriptions of them gave me the impression that they hardly even look human. They’re also rarely referred to as vampires, except for in the present day section. As a result The Passage avoids a lot of the usual subject matter of vampire novels and so readers sick of vampires shouldn’t miss out on this great novel by staying away from it. Oh, and it’s the first installment in a trilogy, so expect to hear more about this wonderful series.
“There was one great difference between the world as it was not and the world of the Time Before, Michael Fisher thought, and it wasn’t the virals. The difference was electricity… Fixing the batteries was impossible. The batteries weren’t made to be fixed. They were made to be replaced… The membranes were cooked, their polymer pathways hopelessly gummed up with sulfonic acid molecules. That’s what the monitor was telling him with that little-bitty hiccup in the day-to-day. Short of the U.S Army showing up with a brand-new stack fresh from the factory – “Hey, sorry, we forgot about you guys!” – the lights were doing to fail. A year, two at the outside. And when that happened, it would be he, Michael the Circuit, who’d have to stand up and say “Listen, everybody, I’ve got some not-great news. Tonight’s forecast? Darkness with widespread screaming. It’s been fun keeping the lights on, but I have to die now. Just like all of you.”
“By half day they had found the river again. They rode in silence under the snow, which was falling steadily now, filling the woods with a muffling light. The river had began to freeze at the edges, dark water flowing freely in its narrowed channel, oblivious. Amy, leaning against Peter’s back, her pale wrists slack in his lap, had fallen asleep. He felt the warmth of her body, the slow rise and fall of her chest against him. Plumes of warm vapour flowed back from the horse’s nostrils, smelling of grass and earth. There were birds in the trees, black birds; they called to one another from the branches, their voices dimmed by the smothering snow.”