The Passage by Justin Cronin

“If you only take one book away with you this summer, make it THE PASSAGE. It’s an absorbing, nightmarish dream of a book, a terrifying apocalyptic thriller, populated by believable, sympathetic characters. Once you start reading it, you won’t want it to end.” (THE TIMES)

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I’m sat trying to figure out how to start this review, but honestly I’m not sure it can be done better than the above quote, The Passage is phenomenally well written, filled with engrossing, realistic characters and a pull-no-punches plot that every so often clotheslines you and reroutes itself so that you learn to never be quite sure where you are heading.

The Passage starts by introducing us to 4 seemingly unrelated characters, following 4 seemingly unrelated plots. We have Amy and her mother – struggling to survive on a single mother’s wage, Wolgast – a divorced FBI agent on a rather cryptic mission for the government, Carter – a death row inmate who might be innocent and the emails of Dr Leah – a scientist adventuring in the jungles of Bolivia.  The various, individual threads manage to mask the plot beautifully – setting in motion threads that slowly converge and entangle themselves until you realize that you have been witnessing the plot all along. Our characters are manicured to perfection; we have no poorly manufactured heroes and heroines – only real people who slowly discover the part they have to play in the unfolding crisis. Our characters are believable, they are not always nice people and they do not always do the right thing, but somehow you love them none-the-less. They are no infallible, unbeatable master-minds but instead are often blindsided by events just as much as the reader is and are forced to work things out as they go – their thinking often withheld from us.

Other characters are later introduced with other seemingly unrelated plots and in the second section of the book (set around 100 years after the first) our characters change entirely – something that threw me totally off guard initially but works incredibly well overall. At first I was not impressed – After 400+ pages I found myself completely engrossed in the original characters and to have them pulled away and replaced was not appreciated, however I found myself becoming even more immersed in the lives of the second cast and now, 200 pages from the end (the book is nearly 1000 pages long) part of me is resisting reading as I don’t want their stories to end. To that effect I just discovered that The Passage is in fact only number 1 in a trilogy  – a fact that has made me very happy.

If I were to have been told within the first few hundred pages of reading that this was a ‘Vampire novel’ I would have found it incredibly hard to believe, and in many ways this is NOT a vampire novel in the realest sense. Yes, it contains creatures that for lack of a better word could be called vampires, but vampires is not what this book is about – it is about people and circumstances and just happens to feature some vampires in the meanwhile. We are not talking Underworld, Buffy or Dracula here, or Edward Cullen, the monsters that Cronin has created have far more in common with the street walkers in Metro 2033 or the vampires from Priest than they do our traditional man-with-pointy-fangs-suckin’-your-blood and not for a minute is The Passage burdened with the label ‘vampire book’ unlike so many recent publications that have rolled off the back of ‘Twilight’.

Vampires from Priest
Vampires from Priest
Monsters from Metro 2033
Monsters from Metro 2033

Nor has Cronin fallen for the trap that many authors have done of rolling out a typical apocalypse/post-apocalypse novel. The Passage is like nothing I have read before and has most certainly not got itself rolled up in the tidal wave of young-adult or romance dystopia that has frequented our shelves in the last 10 years – even if many subsequent books have tried to tie themselves to the success of Cronin’s work by proclaiming similarities.

My social life has taken a dive due to this book. No longer am I interested in trips to the pub or movie nights – my life now revolves around The Passage (just ask Paul) and I imagine I will have a very large hole in my life once I have turned the last page. Cronin has really struck gold with this, it is phenomenal and engrossing and real. I’ve not gotten this involved in a book since reading FEED by Mira Grant and The Passage may find its way to joining FEED on my favorite book list – a lofty prize! I’ve just ordered the sequel on Amazon.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Beth Knight says:

    I read this during freshers week and loved it too! The problem is the reviews for then next book left my heart to sink and I’m scared we’re about to lose more characters we’ve come to care about! I also love the fact that he wrote with his little girl because she had deemed his previous books “boring”!

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