Monday, July 19, 2010

The Passage - It really is THAT good! (No Spoilers)

I don't do hype, and you know this, dear readers. Except this time I ignored the hype AND the fact that this is a 700+-page book AND I have a newborn at home. I swallowed the e-book pricetag even though I'm on a no-buying spree. I just did it. I jumped in. I ignored the fact that there are "vampires." And what did I get?

A truly worthwhile and stunning read. While some might be tempted to categorize Justin Cronin's The Passage as a science fiction book or a vampire book, what I found was a really nicely written and engrossing book that happened to have sci-fi elements and vampires in it. What I loved most were Cronin's characters and his (dare I say it) sweeping epic. How many cliches can I fit into once sentence? But it REALLY was a SWEEPING EPIC. I can't help it. It's beyond me to try to work around that description.

If you've been hiding in your attic and don't know what the book is about, here's my very short, super-condensed version:

The goverment wants to engineer superhuman killing machines or these "vampires" we keep hearing about. They screw up (surprise, surprise), and the 12 death row inmates they tested their virus on escape and kill the majority of humanity and make a whole bunch more vampires along the way. Oh, and the government tried this virus out on a six-year-old, too, but she was fine, if endowed with some weird/helpful powers. Shift forward nearly 100 years, and the reader is introduced to a community of people living, and avoiding the vampires, in California. They soon find out the batteries powering the lights that help keep the "virals" away are going to die, and an expedition begins to find a replacement for the batteries, and find out what's up with the weird little girl who showed up--unharmed--at their gates.

While this is a lighthearted summary, let it not diminish my message: this book was really, really good. I was swept away in this chunkster, and if I could've divorced eating, sleeping, and work, I would've finished it in two days.

Cronin's greatest strength is his characters. There are a LOT of characters both before and after the book's big time shift, and I never had a bit of trouble keeping up with who was who. He includes their backgrounds, and in many cases personal tragedies, and it made so many of them--no matter their actions throughout the book--incredibly sympathetic. The community in the latter portion of the book: Peter, Theo, Mausami, Alicia, Sara, Michael, Caleb, Hollis, Amy and others were just great. I wanted to kick some of them in the face occasionally, but I really cared deeply about all of them, and it was excruciating to read about their adventures and misadventures.

Cronin's vampires are not cheesy in the slightest. They drink blood and they're super strong, and that's where any traditional comparison to vampires ends. They are terrifying monsters with humans buried somewhere deep inside and the threat they posed to my beloved characters throughout the book was more than enough to make me hate them. Although, oddly, there were moments when Cronin was able to render them sympathetic as well. Weird.

As nicely written and richly developed as the book is, it is not without fault. I found some of Cronin's descriptions of action hard to follow. He has a writing style that rides the line between literary and...not. At times it was beautiful, raw, and a punch in the gut. When it came to action, though, I just wanted him to be straightforward. Instead of writing, Her body arced outward from the Humvee just give it to me straight. She nearly fell off and got her ass run over. It was frustrating to have to SLOW DOWN reading these portions, and at times I even had to re-read a couple of paragraphs. Maybe he did this to me on purpose, but either way, it ticked me off. It was a small price to pay, and in the long run it didn't diminish my enjoyment of the book, but it made me "grrr" a few times.

I've said it before, and I'll say again: the highest compliment I can bestow upon any book is an emotional investment in the story. This one made me cry a few times, and not just at the end. I was seriously invested in these characters, and it's going to be painful to wait for the next book.

The Passage is one of my top reads for the year, no doubt. If you're on the fence about reading it, I certainly understand, but I would urge you to try it anyway. I can only hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Visit the website.

Note: I posted this sucker early due to a slip of the mouse, and it's already plooped into your readers, so I can't take it back. Just don't forget to read the Lucy Knisley interview below!


  1. Ah, it was great, wasn't it. Did you slow down enough to read the VERY LAST LINE? Arrrgghh!

  2. YESSS!!! And OH MY GOD! Best/worst ending ever. I didn't write about it here because I just couldn't handle it, and I have no idea how I would've done it. He is a cliffhanger master. I'll give him that.

  3. Oh my!! I am so excited even more so, good gracious, should I buy it for my trip? I can't imagine lugging that for 5 days in Key West, but I am dying to read it!

  4. I'm convinced! I want to read this, even though I'm afraid it might be a bit too violent/gory for me. I've put my name on the waiting list at the library -- I only have to wait until 17 other people read it first!

  5. Gonna have to get to this one sooner rather than later!

  6. I just finished The Passage and I'll be reviewing it soon - I think I liked it a little less than you, but it was still a great read. I completely agree with you about the writing though - it was half well-written and half frustratingly written. A bit strange, but overall definitely a worthy read.

  7. I think I'm one of the few on the fence, but I imagine I'm going to have to get over it and give it a try.

  8. I really got sucked into this one too. Though I resist calling them vampires!

    Once you start on this book, it is really hard to stop reading it until the end. My best advice for people is to try and read it on an e-reader if possible -- it was so heavy and uncomfortable to hold.

    Enjoyed your review. (I found you when going through BBAW posts ... I like what you are doing here!)

  9. Ooh...I downloaded the free sample on my Kindle app and am enjoying it. I may have to bite the bullet and get the whole thing.

    I've heard it compared favorably to Stephen King's "The Stand." Would you say that's a fair/accurate comparison?

  10. Coffee and a Book Chick, I can't imagine lugging it around for 5 days either! I was lucky to download it on Nook so it didn't break my wrists. It's worth buying, though!

    Avisannschild, I was surprised. It does have its moments of gore, but there's also a feeling of knowing ABOUT the creatures rather than seeing them romping and tearing people apart all the time. So maybe it won't be too much for you.

    Do it, Tammy! Do it!

    Meghan, agreed. The plot and my warm feelings for the characters carried me through, though.

    LOL, looking forward to your thoughts if you get 'round to it, Kathy!

    Jenners, I prefer "virals" myself. I thought that was far more fitting than vampire. And amen to the e-reader comment. I loved reading it on Nook. Thanks for stopping in!

    Jen, I'm not the best person to ask. From what I know *of* The Stand, I would say it's an OK comparison, but I haven't read it myself.

  11. I think I might be mostly daunted by the length on this one. I have committed to reading the first few chapters to see if I get hooked, but I tend to get lost in epics- especially if people are going to be "arcing" all over the place. :)

  12. Damn, I guess I should've caved today at the bookstore and bought it.

  13. Nicole, I'm glad you're giving it a chance. I often flake out with chunksters (or don't try at all), but this one hooked me right off the bat. I hope you have good luck with it!

    Cave Jill! Cave!

  14. I think I picked this up a week or so before you did and yet I haven't gotten around to reading it. Yet. Because at that time I was still reading The Gargoyle. And then I had to read French Milk. And then was saddened by Pekar's passing I picked up Mo Willem's book of cartoons. And well, I'm rambling. Hahaha.

    I'm sure to read this once I return to the metro (anytime between the weekend). Whew. Science and vampires. Reminds me of Matheson's I Am Legend.

  15. i just saw this book reviewed on another blog. it's weird--i will be blithely skipping along, never having heard of a particular book, and then WHAM! i see it everywhere!

    thanks for not including spoilers. i'm going to see if this is available on kindle. :)

  16. I have got to find a way to get my hands on this book dagnabit. Stupid book buying ban. Great review!

  17. I totally agree with you 100%. I loved it. 2012 seems so far away.

    Alayne - The Crowded Leaf

  18. Ah you put it so much better than I ever could - especially about the grrr bits. And the ending, the ending! What an ahhh...ACK!! moment

  19. Loved your review!! And, I agree with you and Suey about that last line. Love/hate. Big meanie pulled a fast one on us. I opted to think maybe, just maybe that ending is not what it seems.

  20. Lightheaded, it does have a very "I Am Legend" sort of feel to it. I was thinking that as I read. It's very smart, very engrossing, and very claustrophobia-inducing at times. Enjoy!

    Nat, I happen to know it is available on Kindle, so I hope you take the plunge and buy the big bulky sucker. It's totally worth the price of admission.

    LOL, Trisha! My book buying ban went right out the window with this one. Best rule I ever broke.

    Alayne, I keep hoping that 2012 thing is just a rumor and it'll be out, oh, next week. A girl can hope, yes?

    Olduvai and Nancy, "Grrr!" Totally a love/hate ending, but I think it was pretty fitting and right in line with the rest of the book. Nancy, I prefer to think it's not the obvious either.

  21. If I never read the word "Flyers" used as a cuss again, I'll be happy.

    In the end however, I found the book just as exciting and engrossing as you say.

    I'm really enjoying your blog! I found it via the Lucy Knisley interview.

  22. Excellent review, Andi! I hadn't heard though that it could bring on the tears so now I'll be prepared! I really want to read this one but being that I'm behind on some other books it'll have to wait a bit longer.

  23. Very good review! I'm starting to think I can't put this off any longer, as all the more recent reviews - like yours - seem to take the tack that, despite the hype, it REALLY IS THAT FREAKIN" GOOD! :)

  24. Oh man do I want to read this book. I only do hype occasionally and I think this is definitely a worthwhile occasion. I remember listening to a review of this on NPR and thinking that it might be something that I would enjoy but the size of it is daunting. Maybe it will be the first book I purchase on my ipad!

  25. Thanks for stopping by, Chris! I don't ever want to see "flyers" as a curse either. REALLY got old. Glad you liked the book as much as I did!

    Iliana, I'm hormonal (always), so that might be part of the crying. BUT, I did really care about the characters, and there were some sad bits.

    LOL, Greg! I hope you find that to be true. I adored it.

    Jennifer, I want to hear about that iPad AND I want to hear your thoughts on The Passage, so that sounds like a perfect combo.

  26. I was going to buy this for my iPad, but my brother loaned us his copy. Rod's almost finished, so I'll get to it in the next week or so. The size is a bit daunting, but from what I've heard, it's so compelling, I won't have any trouble zipping through it in a few days. Even at my snail's pace!

  27. I've just read this one. And I really enjoyed it, I just didn't love it. But surprisingly I didn't hate the ending, normally any sort of a cliff-hanger, especially when I don't know about it, is enough to make me moan and gripe. I guess I'm just happy to think that there is more of this world to come.

  28. Just finished this today - loved it!! But I have GOT to stop reading trilogies - the wait between books kills me.


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