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"Epic horror" isn't something you hear of very often, unlike "epic fantasy" or "historical epic." But Justin Cronin seems to have done just that in "The Passage," the first book of a new horror trilogy that seems to be equal parts Stephen King and "The Road" -- a gloriously bleak, imaginative book that drags on in places.

It's honestly hard to summarize a book like this, since Cronin hops around between different people, different time periods, and different places. A little girl named Amy is left by her mother at a convent, only for her to be snatched away by a tormented FBI agent. At the same time, the government is attempting a new experiment that might wipe out disease completely and prolong life -- resulting in eleven insectile "vampires."

Of course, something goes horribly wrong. And over the century following that experiment, American civilization is ravaged by packs of vampires ("dracs" or "virals"), leaving the few remaining humans struggling to survive. The one hope for humanity against the vampires is none other than Amy, still a young child who shares a unique tie to the blood-drinking monsters...

"The Passage" is one of the most unique vampire books in years -- it's part military conspiracy, part post-apocalyptic tale, and part vampire horror. And best of all, it reads like a Guillermo del Toro story filtered through the genius of Stephen King -- no drippy "Twilight" romanticism or glamour.

And Cronin's formidable prose is up to the challenge of writing a hundred-year post-apocalyptic horror epic. He writes in a detailed, gritty style that sprawls over several different narratives, sprinkled with moments of poetry ("the spreading darkness, like a black wing stretching over the earth") and lots of ghastly creepiness (oh, the vampires!). The only problem is that with a book this huge, there are times when the story sags and slows down.

And as you'd expect in a true horror story, the vampires here aren't gothic hunks or sparkly bishies -- they're grotesque, glowing, insectile monsters that tear their victims apart. But they're not truly the center of the story -- Cronin uses them as the prism through which we see that mortality isn't that bad, and that the human spirit is indomitable.

"The Passage" is a rare bestselling novel -- an epic, slightly bloated expanse of horror, science and post-apocalyptic adventure that leaves you breathless. Justin Cronin just won the crown.
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on June 16, 2010
Ivy League scientists discover evidence of a vampyric virus and get a military grant to help find and study it. Right away, we smell trouble, and before long, but not before they had sufficient warning, a secret military unit is experimenting on death row inmates, who end up escaping with intentions to spread the virus and destroy the world as we know it. Enter Amy, the final test subject, a six-year-old abandoned innocent, who, unlike the others (called "The Twelve," though I count thirteen), doesn't turn into an evil blood sucker and may turn out to be the salvation of the world.

First of all, I should say this was a lot of fun to read, and it was hard to put down -- apart from a few drawn out digressions and bits of melodrama that dragged. I read it, late into the night, for several nights in a row. Cronin has a way with words, and, against the backdrop of a science fiction and fantasy premise, his story depicts a credible and realistic future. The characters are convincing and the situations unique and engaging -- it's both an intriguing new take on what seemed to be an overdone and worn out genre, and an exciting epic in its own right that even those who hate vampire fiction should find fun. In other words, it's guilt-free fun summer fiction.

Having said that, I think it might have been improved with a tighter structure, and the elimination of a few oddball elements. The story shifts between several different narrative perspectives, which adds to the intrigue - there is an omniscient narrator who sides with the point of view of one or the other characters, there are first person narratives written as if in an email or journal, and there are historical and military archives, that all combine to tell a story that spans a century - from the viral apocalypse to the point where a ragged band of humans with a messianic child in tow decides to do something about it. Most of what happens in between is omitted, and I almost think it might have been better to start near the end and compress the beginnings into a few flashbacks. On the other hand, I enjoyed most of it and apart from a few lengthy chapters I'm not quite sure what I'd want to drop.

A couple of other minor gripes: I was a bit thrown off by the seemingly supernatural elements in a story that otherwise aimed for roots in reality (at least, a science fiction reality, where viruses can make human beings live quite long and get some cool powers and dark desires). For example, there's a little girl who has a psychic connection with animals, even before there was a semi-plausible science-fiction explanation. At the very least it would be a pretty odd coincidence that the girl they picked seemingly at random as a young test subject happened already to have psychic powers -- but it might indicate that the author wants us to take seriously the various flirtations with theology spread throughout the story, suggesting there might be a divine influence here. I would also drop the odd invented expletive from the future: flyers, it's bizarre, and I couldn't figure out for the longest time that "flyers" was a word they were using somewhat like another word that starts with f, but with much less versatility. As far as I can tell, it almost always appears at the beginning of a sentence, as in "Flyers, Peter, can't you do something about this?" Flyers just doesn't have the heft or the weight of a real satisfyingly solid cuss word - assuming that's what it's intended to be. Still, the book as a whole certainly does have the heft and excitement of a blockbuster novel, where you can forgive a few excesses as long as it's thrilling and keeps you on the edge of your seats, caring about the characters and eager to find out what happens next. The Passage did it for me, and I can't wait for the next volume in the projected trilogy.
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on July 22, 2011
I tend to agree with many of the 3* reviews, however, I thought the good parts of this book were far too good to give it anything less than 4*.

Unfortunately, Cronin goes into too much detail about characters that have no relevance to the overall story. I found myself rushing through some parts of the book just so that I could get back to the story lines that I cared about. Making this book about 200 pages shorter would probably bump it up to 5* for me.

With that in mind most of the book really is fantastic. In particular, the action sequences, the diary sequences, the humanity of the characters (the relevant ones anyways!).
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Reason for Reading: As soon as I heard of this book, which was before any of the buzz or hype had started, I knew I had to read it as I love apocalyptic novels and this had all the ingredients that made it sound like a book I had to read.

First, all the buzz, the hype, the comparisons to classics in this genre and the talk about this book is true. I fell into this door stopper tome and became hypnotized by the world I had entered. I can't remember the last time I carted an almost 800 page book to the beach with me! But once I had started reading, I was trapped and could only stop reading for the very essentials of life. I have not read Justin Cronin before but this is an author who can write and I will be checking out his two previous works.

Essentially, this is the story of a girl who saves the world. The plot is so complex it is almost impossible to give a summary without writing pages but I'll try. A hideous scientific experiment goes terribly wrong and a virus is exposed in the United States. It eventually destroys modern civilization on the North American continent (the fate of the world is unknown), leaving behind scattered groups of survivors and horrible infected persons who have been turned into something no longer human. Because of their lust for blood and some of their habits such as death by exposure to light the media, in the early days referred to them as vampires and occasionally to the virus as the "vamp virus". However, throughout the book various groups have different names for the infected ones, most commonly called virals, and while some names such as "dracs" refer to vampires, everyone knows these are people who have been infected with a virus. In my humble opinion, this is not a vampire book.

One of the survivors is a little girl who was also experimented on, the last one. She turned out different though, she appears perfectly normal and a CIA agent rescues her where they then flee to the mountains and live a reclusive life. A hundred years go by and now commences the majority of the book. How life is being lead now with the remains of civilization around the new societies, living in a world where nighttime is to be avoided, using sources such as batteries but having no replacements once they are gone. This life can only last so long and one day into it walks a girl. A strange girl, who may hold the fate of humankind in her hands.

I just love this book so much!! There are so many characters and all are so deftly created to be complete, complex human beings. The world Cronin has created is amazingly real and is one that is completely believable of a post-apocalyptic society. His characters deal with real issues such as brotherly tensions, falling in love when it is not reciprocated and when it is, overcoming personal fears, and personal growth. The Passage is a journey in many ways. A physical one across land, one of growth personally for each character and a spiritual one as deep questions are raised and realized.

My only problem with the book is that nowhere in the book's description does it tell me that this is the first in a proposed trilogy. It took a little googling to find that out. So the ending is an ending but it is also a beginning and while I look forward to continuing with the story in the future I was a little miffed at first that the seven hundred odd pages wasn't going to give me a finite ending. My final word, though, is if you like post-apocalyptic books this is a Must Read as it will no doubt go on to become a classic.
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on August 26, 2016
I thought the themes, and there are several, well-managed and story depth excellent, with enough suspence to drive the narrative forward. A fine read and I would recommend it. There is a spiritual theme with which some might feel some discomfort depending on faith orientation or extent of atheism, but is gently told through allegory. I found it to be a pleasant thread that wove the story together nicely.
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on August 11, 2012
This is an epic in every sense. It spans decades (actually centuries kind-of) and has a huge cast that is actually fairly easy to keep straight in your head while reading. It's definitely a page-turner, and Cronin is great at describing his characters. You will get a feel for who the characters are and quickly become attached to and interested in their lives.

If you're not a fan of Science Fiction or Post-Apocalyptic stuff or Dystopia, I don't think you will like this. There are also a few semi-religious themes and a bit of supernatural stuff that will irk those who like their Science Fiction to stick to semi-plausible science, but it is brief enough to overlook.

While I couldn't put it down, I felt ultimately disappointed with how it all wrapped up - mainly because it didn't wrap up. It's the first installment of a planned Trilogy, so be forewarned if you decide to get hooked that the next book isn't out until Oct 2012. The third book doesn't have a release date yet.

There are a few times you will feel like looking back to remember who a certain character is or what the significance of something is, so it's best to read it quickly.

If you are into post-apocalyptic stuff in the vein of "I Am Legend" or "The Road" you'll totally dig it. But it's a bit like eating pie - at first you can't get enough, then when you've eaten the whole thing you feel vaguely unsatisfied, but know that when the next pie is ready you'll still have more.
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on January 15, 2011
The Passage
Having really enjoyed "Mary and O'Neill" and "The Summer Guest", I was eager to get started reading "The Passage".
At first I was convinced that Cronin had used some ghost-writers to do the job, and even after reading to the end I'm still not sure. Here is a total departure from his previous style of intense character development, where he invited his readers into the most private thoughts and experiences of his characters, to one of almost pure narrative where the characters are at best cardboard cut-outs and the story is paramount.
The story IS enthralling. It is what kept me reading through all the (unnecessary?) long-winded bits which slowed it down. Completely riveting, which leads me to suspect that the motive behind writing this proposed trilogy was movie rights. Don't be surprised if you see this in your local popcorn palace before long. But do yourself a favor and read the book first - it's always better than the screen version.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon September 11, 2010
The Passage is a trilogy confined in within the binding of a rather large book. Man vs. Himself is the theme of the first part and features Agent Wolgast who must battle his responsibilities as a agent of the government and his conscience that dictates he should save the life of Amy, an innocent young girl who's been stolen from a convent to be part of the army's experiment to create a team of invisible soldiers. The source of their invincibility comes from a virus found in the jungles of South America. Those infected become, you guessed it, vampires but not vampires like 'True Blood' or 'Twilight'. They're more like the hairless, feral creatures of 'I am Legend.' At the beginning of the book they're controlled within the confines of a military facility somewhere in the mountains of Colorado from which, of course, they escape. This begins the second part of the story, Man vs. Nature (the vampire) where we are introduced to a new set of protagonist who we follow to the end of the book. The final part Man vs. Man begins when our heroes are set against another group of survivors of the original vampire attack. At first, they believe the vampires are their common enemy and then discover otherwise. The Passage is a very visual novel given its subject matter and one that the reader in which the reader becomes easily absorbed.
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"The Passage" is a stand alone work by Justin Cronin. It is part fantasy, part sci-Fi/adventure and the novel is 766 pages in length.


A new virus has been found in the jungles of Boliva and has been brought back to the U.S. A virus, that when it infects a human, changes the person into a powerful vampire-like creature that has little regard for mankind or his wellbeing. When the infected escape isolation, the world as we know it, is in great peril.


Cronin has created a novel filled with intensity and intrigue. The story unfolds in a natural, unhurried series of events, yet there is virtually no 'down' time in this extraordinary book. Each chapter either continues on with some previous line or begins to develop a new tangent that will eventually link-up with the rest of the story.

The main characters are Amy, Peter, and many other supporting people, including Alicia, Michael, Sara and Caleb, all have the usual blend of strengths and them all very human traits. Great books always have characters that are memorable to the reader, (either in good or bad ways) and this book is no exception.

Above and beyond a good story, there was an under-current of human emotion and internal struggle; a struggle not only within the people in the book but also within the infected. And although the infected were not given a great deal of development, there where a few glimpses of some lingering human emotion in these hopelessly, virus controlled individuals. All this made for a book that was more than just another all-out action/adventure...there was a sense of sadness and compassion that added the book's overall quality.

Simply one of the best books I've read in ages. AND, I must admit, that having read a lot of trilogies lately, it was really nice to have a stand alone work to sink ones reading teeth into for a change. If your mixed fantasy/sci-fi genre lover, I'd highly recommend this work. Easily 5 Stars.

Ray Nicholson
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon February 28, 2016
FBI agent Brad Wolgast is on a special assignment to recruit death row inmates for a top secret government-sanctioned project. Wolgast is committed to the cause until he’s asked to pick up a six-year-old girl named Amy. Evidence suggests that the experiments inmates are subjected to are pretty damn dangerous. Wolgast’s change of heart about delivering Amy not only affects them both, but is entwined with a disastrous event that changes the world.

At over 850 pages with eleven separate sections, you can imagine that there’s much more to the story. This is an epic tale of science gone horribly wrong. The structure is easy to follow and author Justin Cronin features a number of protagonists to tell the story. Some protagonists fade away while others become more prevalent. Cronin creates detailed backstories about all of them, however some of these sections are simply too long and the detail unnecessary. It’s interesting that Amy who probably has the least to say is the most powerful character in the book.

Cronin has an intriguing twist on the whole vampire/zombie angle. It’s not something I’ve read or seen on TV before, and heaven knows I’ve watched plenty of both types of movies. While part of me wished the story could go on (and it does in further installments), I was also relieved to finally finish the book. All in all, The Passage is a worthwhile journey that I won’t forget anytime soon.
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