Review: “The Passage,” Justin Cronin

Pros: LONG and fascinating tale
Rating: 5 out of 5

Justin Cronin’s The Passage: A Novel (Book One of The Passage Trilogy) covers a lot of genre background, from paranormal to horror, sci-fi to bio-thriller, apocalyptic to post-apocalyptic. Government-run Project NOAH seeks to use a mysterious virus to lengthen human life, cure cancer, and more. Unfortunately, what they really seem to have done is create a hive-mind vampire race, using death-row inmates as their test subjects. They decide that they need to see what will happen if they infect a child with the virus, and they assign Agent Wolgast to bring Amy Belafonte to their base. He decides he can’t do it, but it’s too late to back out now. Even before the virus, though, Amy is something “more”. She seems to know things she shouldn’t, and animals respond to her in strange ways. The more virals that are created, the stronger the hive-mind gets–something has to break.

I watched the first ten episodes of the TV series based on this trilogy before I read the book, so I will make a few comparisons. The one thing I liked better about the TV show so far is that Amy seems more… human. In the book Amy’s pretty much just an enigma until late in the book, despite the fact that we see a lot more of her childhood in here. One thing I like better about the book, however, is the fact that Amy has something paranormally “special” about her from the start–whereas she gets called “special” in the TV series, that’s more about her personality: warmth and strength. Her unusual abilities to start with in the book make her transition into an unusual being seem to have more basis in reality.

The opening of the book made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end:

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 Bellafonte.

The book is quite long! The ten episodes so far in the TV series, even though they seem to cover a lot of ground, only take us to one-third of the way through the first book of the trilogy! Clearly there will be plenty of material for an extensive TV show, should they continue it. As is probably evident by how long the book is, it isn’t all tense chases and fights and fleeing. There are some extensive almost-but-not-quite stream-of-consciousness pieces exploring the world through the eyes of various characters. Several sections are excerpts from journals. There’s some society-building passages as we encounter various post-apocalyptic groups; because the book skips the time immediately after things go south, we get to see these societies already established, rather than retreading ground covered in so many other books. There is, however, plenty of action–particularly toward the end things get awfully tense. The only part that I felt didn’t get quite enough detail was Amy’s fight with the virus. It seemed strangely elided for such an important turning point.

There are one or two details that bugged me slightly. It’s hard to believe that gas would still be viable after nearly a hundred years. I’ve read enough other apocalyptics in which the limited lifespan of gas was a factor that it just didn’t work for me in here. Most of the material worked for me, though. In particular, the vampires are new and different in how they work.

The Twelve were the blood running below the skin of all things in the world at that time.

I’m really looking forward to reading the next two books and watching more of the TV show!

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