Clocking in at over 900 pages, The Passage tested my ability to finish a book in fewer than seven days (I lost). Fortunately for author Justin Cronin, I have an unlimited capacity for consuming page-turners late into the night, preferably while munching on Chex Mix. I see your gargantuan paperback, Mr. Cronin, and raise you a fistful of cheese-flavored pretzels bits. It took nine days, but I did it.
Where to begin. So The Passage centers on a government experiment being conducted on twelve willing participants (willing by virtue of the alternative: all are death row inmates) who the U.S. military hopes to turn into fast-healing, super-strong and generally un-killable soldiers. Of course, those of us familiar with a little thing called pop culture know how this ends: vampires.
Of course, it would be a mistake to classify The Passage as strictly a “vampire novel,” just as I’ve always been reluctant to limit World War Z to “zombie book.” A thirteenth patient in the government experiment, a young girl named Amy, is the crux around which the novel’s plot unfolds: Sort of half-vampire-half-girl, Amy ages incredibly slowly, doesn’t drink blood but barely needs to eat, can tolerate but doesn’t enjoy the daylight and — most importantly — by virtue of her short-lived participation in the initial vampire experiment, has something akin to a telepathic connection with not only the other original subjects, but with the turned in general. Possessed of such a unique skill set, it should come as little surprise that Amy is the linchpin upon which rests the fate of mankind. NBD girl!
Given the aforementioned 900 pages, The Passage thankfully offers up plenty of additional characters. There are a handful of regular human survivors who become protectors of Amy’s, drawn to her by a sort of mystical force that seems part destiny, part science-fiction. Others are members of the Colony, a group that through floodlights and walls survives for the near-century covered by the novel, establishing a system of government and education, procreating and marrying and essentially forming a small community. Their stories, for anyone who’s considered where and how they might survive a vampire/zombie/alien apocalypse, are the most interesting. Not necessarily because of the logistics of preserving humanity — spoiler: batteries play a large part — but for what they represent: people who came together and slogged it out, bloodsucking human mutants be damned. In the aftermath of so much death, and with no guarantee of anything better, it’s intriguing to imagine being the people still holding on, mostly because I can’t imagine that I’d ever come close to being one. (Not that I’d kill myself right away in the event of a nation-destroying monster plague. I’d almost assuredly try heroin first.)
The Passage treads on exceedingly familiar territory, which is to say that it continues my exploration of Dayum We Are Obsessed With The End of The World. And if I’m being honest, there’s nothing spectacularly new about The Passage, though Cronin does a good job of creating his own iteration of Vampire Death Plague. The book is more than anything a compulsive page-turner, very Stephen King-esque in both size and scope. And even though solid 40% of the included blurbs call The Passage “beach read of the summer,” hook me up with a Snuggie and some snacks, and I can read a sweeping, addictive and thoroughly imagined vampire book any day of the year. Twice on Valentine’s Day.
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