Monday, 5 January 2015

Book Review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

I hope you are all having an enjoyable beginning to the new year. I cannot believe that it is 2015 already! I thought I would begin the new year with a book review. I seldom post book reviews, which is really quite odd considering I have a degree in literature, and so I recently decided that one of my aims for the new year would be to post book reviews regularly. I am beginning with The Passage by Justin Cronin. My uncle thrust his copy of this book into my hands last year and informed me that I absolutely had to read it. Unfortunately I was in my third year of my degree at the time, and so I did not get around to reading it until a few months ago. I don't want to give too much of the plot away in this review so I apologise if this post seems rather vague!

Firstly, I would like to apologise for the state of my book in this post. I borrowed it from my uncle, and I was reading it in the lounge a few weeks ago. I had been expecting a phone call, so when I heard the phone ring, I jumped up to answer it and abandoned the book, which I left on the sofa. This would usually be a sensible thing to do, but I forgot completely that I now have a puppy who is not only capable of jumping onto furniture (even though she is not allowed), and who loves to chew absolutely anything. Of course, she went straight for my book, which I had borrowed. I was mortified, as I pride myself on keeping my books in pristine condition. As one of my friends pointed out, if a human had mutilated one of my books they would be thrown out of my house in an instant and I would most likely never forgive them. Needless to say, my books now do not leave my room unless they are being watched at all times. I purchased a new edition to return to my uncle (I would never return a damaged book, as I would furious if someone returned one of my own books damaged to me) and I will most likely buy a new edition for me.

The Passage presents an intriguing blend of vampire and post apocalyptic fiction. I was sceptical when my uncle first placed this book into my hands, as it did not sound particularly enjoyable. I have not read anything recently published that could be considered part of the vampire genre. Secondly, I also seldom enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction.

However, I was engrossed by the very first page. I think I can most likely count the books that have intrigued me so early on in their plot on one hand. I do not think it is difficult to see why, as the novel begins thus, 'Before she became the Girl from Nowhere - the One Who Walked In, the First and Last Only, who lived a thousand years - she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy. Amy Harper Bellafonte.' Amy is not your usual heroine. She is a child, who has been thrust into unfavourable circumstances seemingly by chance, and after being abandoned by her mother who fell into prostitution, finds herself caught in a dubious government experiment at only six years old. In The Passage she really speaks, or interacts, and she is not as dynamic as some of the other characters, perhaps, but she is nevertheless intriguing.

The first section of The Passage details government controlled experiments on inmates of death-row in a bid to achieve a refined race. These experiments grant the infected what it is usually quite typical of the vampire genre: immortality, photophobia and a thirst for human flesh. The term 'vampire' is discarded in favour of 'virals.' I was engrossed by the very first chapter. The subsequent part of the novel, which is set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic world after the cataclysmic release of the virals and their subsequence contamination of the world, is so starkly different both in pace and setting, that it is difficult to believe that you are still reading the same novel.  After thoroughly enjoying the first half of the book, I did find the transition into the post-apocalyptic second half of the book a little difficult. I struggled with the sudden change in pace, which was much faster in the previous section, and I did not find the characters as engaging as the others featured in the first section of the novel. However, I have now finished the sequel to The Passage, titled The Twelve, and my original disinterest in the post-apocalyptic world presented in the second half of The Passage has vanished entirely. I actually think that it is testament to the outstanding first half the novel that I found it difficult to separate myself from the plot of the original characters. It felt very much like I was beginning a new book after being fully engrossed by an excellent previous novel.

I will admit that I have been deterred from the vampire genre recently due to the influx of very similar and rather mundane releases, but The Passage ended up being the first book of the vampire genre that I have actually enjoyed in quite some time. The characters are dynamic and intriguing; I did not find myself attempting to rush through chapters to return to a character I preferred. Good and evil are not as distinguished as other works of fiction. I did not expect to sympathise with Anthony Carter, for instance, imprisoned in death-row, but I did. Characters are given a history and are fleshed out remarkably well. Likewise, the concept and the plot were compelling, so much so that I ordered The Twelve within the hour that I completed The Passage.

I would absolutely go as far as to state that The Passage was my favourite book that I have read in 2014, and I am looking forward to the release of City of Mirrors, which is apparently going to be released in late 2015.

Have you read anything interesting recently?


  1. OK, I now want to read this and I am walking by Waterstones today, oh dear!

    I just read The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan for book group. Some beautiful writing, all about the mother / daughter dynamic between Chinese migrant mothers and their American daughters. However, it was also a bit of a confusing mish mash of narrators. Next up is The Shock of the Fall by nathan Filler.

    I'm also reading a fascinating book about the social history of clothes during World War 1 - Dressed for War 1914-1918. You'd think it would just concern fabrics, patterns etc, but it is so much more than that - the evolution of women's modern dress and slow emancipation, the blurring of the classes, tales about lice and fumigation - I'm loving it!

  2. Let me know if you do read it! I would love to know what you think. I have actually had to ban myself from Waterstones until my assignments are over. It's terrible.

    The Joy Luck Club sounds fascinating. Dressed for War sounds incredibly interesting too! My sister is studying History at university and that sounds like something she would really enjoy reading, so I will definitely pass that one along!

    1. I'm not sure if I was thankful or not that they only had The Twelve in. My local library doesn't have it either, so I suspect it'll be a Kindle download onto my tablet at the weekend. Picked up The Shock of the Fall last night and had that blissful moment when you fall into the book abyss and before you know it you've read half a book and it's 1:30am and you really should be asleep! Again, quite harrowing subject matter (POV being that of a teenager with mental health issues who is not particularly likeable). I'm writing up a short story and then I'm intending to fall into the second half all afternoon :)

    2. That sounds lovely! I have been incredibly busy with university assignments (my deadline is next week) and I would love nothing more than to be able to fall into a book for a few hours! The Shock of the Fall sounds really intriguing; I will add it to my to-read list! Let me know what you think to The Passage if you do decide to read it!


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