The Passage is the first in a trilogy by Justin Cronin, and it combines post-apocalyptic science fiction with horror. In the year 2018, a group of scientists and soldiers are trekking through South America, where they are attacked by bats carrying a virus that causes a horrifying transformation in anybody unlucky enough to survive. The victims gain superhuman strength and agility and age far more slowly than normal humans. Unfortunately, they also gain an uncontrollable craving for blood. In a nutshell, they become vampires.
The U.S. military decides to weaponize the vampires or "virals" as they are often called. To do that, they need to study the condition-- which involves turning more people into virals. The officers in charge of the experiment decide to choose the most "disposable" subjects they can: death row inmates-- and a little girl named Amy, whose mother is both a prostitute and a murderer. The inevitable happens, and the virals eventually escape their prison. Like classic vampires, they are able to "reproduce" by biting people. As per the book, every tenth person a viral bites becomes a viral, too. Given that, it doesn't take long for the virals to overrun the country.
Fast forward roughly 90 years, and humanity, at least in the American continents, is barely holding on. (Many other countries quickly closed their borders when the crisis began-- and the jury is still out as to whether they did so in time.) Small communities still exist, though. The first one introduced, simply referred to as the First Colony, consists of the descendants of orphaned children and the FEMA workers who'd transported them to California in the hopes of finding refuge. The First Colony's citizens have survived the decades by erecting tall walls and flooding their community with powerful lights to ward off lurking virals.
The First Colony is not without its problems, however. They have literally been cut off from the rest of the world for decades and have grown insular and suspicious. Worse, their technological know-how has regressed to a roughly early 20th-century level-- which means they have no way of keeping their century-old lighting system operational. When the lights go off, they'll be sitting ducks for the virals.
Amy-- the girl from the military laboratory-- wanders into this extremely tense community, which doesn't quite know what to make of her. Amy seems to be a mix of viral and normal human. She looks normal, but has a telepathic link to the virals. Most bizarre is her drastically slowed aging process. Chronologically, she's about 100 years old, but she looks like a girl in her early teens. She also appears to be mute, most likely from trauma. As she also shows no signs of the virals' usual bloodlust, the First Colony's citizens warily take her in.
Meanwhile, the most technologically savvy member of the First Colony, Michael, has surreptitiously set up a radio -- and picked up signals from what he believes is another settlement. Hoping to get help for their community, he and some others decide to strike out, and end up exploring a grim new world.
At 800 pages long, The Passage is hardly a model of conciseness. It also makes the extremely risky move of jumping 90 years a third of the way through-- which means the reader has to get acquainted with an entirely new cast of characters, after already reading 200+ pages. Fortunately, characters like the tough-as-nails Alicia, the savvy Michael, and the gentle Theo make up for having to say good-bye to people like Brad Wolgast, the conflicted F.B.I. agent with a truly unpleasant assignment.
The Passage sometimes reads as if Cronin's taking potshots at authors like Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer, who heavily romanticize vampirism and even portray vampires as erotic heroes. Cronin's virals are not remotely erotic. Nor are they suave like Count Dracula. Instead, they're utterly savage and animalistic; one character likens them to rabid dogs. In what is possibly a swipe at Meyer's sparkling vampires, the virals glow green and have bright orange eyes. They inspire fear and revulsion, not desire.
Cronin's work is reminiscent of some of Stephen King's work, particularly 'Salem's Lot, in which vampires overrun a town, and The Stand, which is about a post-apocalyptic America beset by evil forces. The latter book also involved characters going on extended road trips. Unfortunately, Cronin, like King, does seem to write himself into a corner at the climax-- although the result isn't quite as ridiculous as "the Hand of God" setting off a nuke and blowing up the bad guys, which is what happened in The Stand. It's still pretty bad.
Still, if anybody who likes bloodthirsty vampires and post-apocalyptic stories will probably like The Passage.
Read all 5 Reviews
Write a Review