Thursday, June 24, 2010

a review of "The Passage" [46]

The Passage by Justin Cronin
(Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0345504968)

No doubt, you may have already read a few reviews of this book, touted as a summer blockbuster. Bought for over 3 million dollars, two sequels in the works, movie rights already sold for $1.75 million, one of Oprah's "Must Reads" of the season...there is a fair amount of book buzz out there. And I would have weighted in a couple of weeks ago, when it was published, but I dropped the massive book on my toes and crushed them all. OK, that is not true. The part about my toes (they are just fine) is made up, but the massive part is true, with this book coming in at just a bit under 800 pages.
The question is, is it a really good, massive book, or a big ole' doorstop?

When the story begin, we are a couple of decades in the future, in an increasing hostile nation that has suffered large losses from terrorist attacks on civilian targets and a resulting increased military presence. In this environment, the government becomes aware of some research on a rare virus from the jungles of Bolivia that might have the ability to create a Super Soldier. This soldier would be aggressive, very hard to kill and would live for several 'normal' lifetimes..a great money saver on training. They bring the virus back, after most of the scientific and military expedition that went after it was very horribly killed, and decide to test it on a dozen death row inmates, with some quite dramatic results. The virus turns these men into something even more horrible than they already were and when, in a not terribly surprising move, the inmates, now "virals", escape, the future of the country will be forever, terribly changed in an instant.
"It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born."
We also meet in this section, a young girl named Amy, who will be a constant throughout the story. Abandoned at a convent, into the care of an African sister with her own horrible past, Amy seems like any ordinary, sad, little girl. But when the people in charge of testing the virus choose her as a test subject, for reason we do not at first understand, we suspect there may be more more to Amy than meets the eye. Much drama ensues.

So ends the first part of the story. Next, we are transported a hundred years into the future and a very different future it is. As we find out, the "vampire" virus raced across the country, killing most of the human race, leaving behind these horrible virals that hunt anything alive to kill and eat, usually in the dark of night. No, the virals do not like bright light. And we meet the residents of the First Colony, a small group still living in a protected compound built a hundred years ago, in what was then California. For their protection, they are dependent on an array of huge lights, powered by a system of wind turbines and batteries, that light the night and help keep the virals at bay. But as some in the colony know, batteries do not last forever.

There have always been rumors that they might not be the only humans still alive. It is a rumor that proves true when one night, a teenage girl, a Walker, comes to their gate and sets into motions a set of events that will make up the third and final part of the book, racing to a cliffhanger conclusion.

Some reviewers, like Swampa at S.Krishna's Book Reviews and Marie at The Boston Bibliophile have loved this book. Some, like Rhapsody In Books' and Jen at Devourer of Books have not been quite as enthusiastic. So the questions is, where do I fall?

I am afraid I must go with the second group. I liked it..I did not love it. It is good, not great.

So, the bad news first. As I may have mentioned, this book is BIG, my ARC edition coming in at 766 pages. That does not have to be a bad thing, but it always give me pause. Did this book have to be this long, is the story just that big, that epic? For me, the answer is No. The first section, where we learn how this virus got loose and first meet Amy is very good. We are introduced to some great characters, the plot is tight and thrilling. And then, just as we are racing along in the story, we hit the brick wall of section two, 120 mph to 20 in an instant..bam. I think I got whiplash.
Yes, without question, there is important information we need to find out in this second part, people we need to meet, relationships to understand. But without question, hundreds, yes hundreds, of pages could have been cut from this part and, to a lesser degree, from the third, with no bad effects on the story. It is in need of The Big Red Pen of Editing. Yes, once The Girl arrives and we move into the final part of the story, things pick up, but the author almost left me behind, taking a nap, in The Colony.

Now the good. While it may not be the most original story...others have commented on many similarities to Stephen King The Stand and Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic The is a good story. Not an epic story, not a great story, but a solidly good story. Mr. Cronin is a very good writer, without question, and his ability to create characters is excellent. There are many, maybe even too many, great, memorable characters in this book. And that is not even including the ones that get eaten! I stuck with this book because I wanted to know what happen to these people that I came to care about.

A good book, an entertaining book, a book I would recommend with some reservations. It will most likely make a good movie. But what of the next two in the series? Will I be awaiting them with bated breath, as I have before with some books in a series? Hmmm...well, I may well read them, because I an interested in what happens to these people...but there is no big rush.

My thanks to Ballantine Books for an ARC of this book.


  1. I'm glad you reviewed this because now I know I'd won't be reading it.
    Thanks for your honest opinion.

  2. I've got this one loaded on my iPod, to be listened to AFTER The Girl That Kicked the Hornet's Nest, of course. 29 discs. Not the longest I've listened to (I think that would be something like 48 or 49 discs) but long. I wonder, if after we've read all three books from this trilogy, if everyone will feel differently. That all that detail was necessary? I think there are many books out there that suffer from the lack of a good red pen.

  3. Ti (Book Chatter) and Michelle (A Reader's Respite) and I are reading (in some cases re-reading) The Stand so we can make a comparison with The Passage fresh on our minds. And I have to say, if you think The Passage is long, The Stand is around 1200 pages and really tests ones' arm muscles! We'll be posting our results as soon as we're done slogging through, I mean, reading, The Stand!!!

  4. I've seen all the rave of this book and I'm just not sure it's for me. You've made lean a little more away from reading it.

  5. You know, on an unrelated matter, I am part way through an audiobook (wow, I thought 16 disks was bad) but I seem to have killed my iTouch with an update for the moment, so much for audiobooks!

    I would not have minded the 800 pages if 800 was necessary in this book. But I do not think it is and that drives me a bit nuts.

  6. I'm reading all the reviews as I'm waiting on starting this one until my August vacation. I think. Then I start thinking, why would I want to lug an 800 page book on vacation. Well, in any case, I'm not reading it for a while. I'm getting the feeling that this is going to be one of those some do/some don't kind of book. Lots of big hoopla. Semi-need for it. Thanks for sharing, Caite!

  7. Yep, Jill and Ti and I are reading The Stand right now just to compare, and as much as I liked The Passage, I have to say that thus far, The Stand is far better. I can't do a comparison with The Road because I hated that danged book, LOL.

  8. as I write this, I am at the library...dare I look for a copy of The Stand. It would be my first King. But I have so many other things to read...what to do, what to do....

  9. I often avoid books that get too much hype, and at almost 800 pages, this would have to come with a lifetime plenary indulgence before I'd run out and get it. I guess whenever in the future I get an ereader and go on a trip where I might get stuck on a desert island, I may give it a go.

    Besides I don't usually like sci-fi, fantasy, and all that other stuff that's advertised. Based on your great honest review, I'll skip this one thanks.

  10. Well our mutual friend Ms. Rhapsody sent me her ARC ... and when I saw it, I was like "OOOOOHHHH BOY ... that is one big book. I should have Kindled it." But Free is better than comfortable. I'll be curious to see what camp I fall into with it!

  11. I wonder if the some of the reasoning many readers have disliked it is because of the genre. This is being marketed as a strictly novel-type book for almost every type of reader, though it does have an abundance of pure sci-fi traits. I have to wonder how it's been received among sci-fi readers... Very interesting review.

  12. Biblibio, personally, I like the issues were with the execution of it.


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