The Passage Review
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Justin Cronin’s massive post-apocalyptic vampire epic has been touted as The Book of the Summer. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best book of the summer. It does, however, mean that, if you do decide to pick it up, it’s probably the only book that you’ll have time to read this summer (and maybe even into the fall). And, when you finish, it’ll likely leave you feeling drained.

The Passage begins with a scientist’s misguided obsession turned top-secret military operation. Project NOAH was supposed to turn humans into weapons. Instead, it turns them into monsters. When the project’s test subjects—a group of death row inmates—escape from the lab in Colorado, they unleash their deadly virus on the world. But FBI Agent Wolgast is able to escape with the project’s newest subject—a six-year-old girl named Amy—and he races to the mountains of Oregon to keep her safe.

Nearly 100 years later, the residents of California’s First Colony continue to maintain the self-sufficient lifestyle that keeps them safe from the occasional “viral” attacks. Lately, however, some of the leaders have started having strange dreams—and the virals seem to be preparing for something. To make matters worse, the Colony’s battery power is fading. It’s only a matter of time before the lights go out, allowing the virals in.

Their only hope may be a mysterious girl who shows up at the gate one night and sets in motion a catastrophic chain of events.

Reading The Passage is no small undertaking. This isn’t the kind of book that you read over a lazy weekend by the pool; it’s the kind of book that requires a serious commitment. It also requires a fair amount of upper-body strength (for lugging it around in your beach bag). It’s a pretty heavy, often literary, read, too—so you might want to think long and hard before diving into this dictionary-sized tome.

Once you do decide to make the commitment, though, you’ll find a different take on the usual vampire story. The vampires of The Passage aren’t moody teens with alluringly disheveled hair. The “virals” are a terrifying mix of vampire, zombie, and cold-blooded killer—a science experiment gone horribly wrong. And they’re always there, lurking in the shadows. You’ll never know when they’ll strike—which adds a touch of eerie suspense to even the most mundane of tasks inside the Colony.

As you wait for the next burst of viral horror, though, you’ll get to know the characters—first Wolgast and mysterious little Amy, then the various residents of the First Colony. The main characters are flawed but likable—each with his or her own strengths, weaknesses, and ambitions. Some are developed more fully than others—but, through the course of this epic journey, you’ll get attached to all of them.

For that reason, then, it’s all the more frustrating when, after spending so much time getting to know (and care about) these characters, you reach the end of the book, only to be left with nothing but teasers and unanswered questions. Though The Passage is the first book in a proposed trilogy, that doesn’t make it acceptable to drag readers through such an epic journey, only to leave them completely in the lurch. You would think that Cronin could offer some kind of closure after 766 pages—something to give his readers even the slightest feeling of completion. Instead, the end of The Passage feels more like the end of a chapter: a couple of things have been revealed, a couple of decisions have been made, and the characters are about to move on to the next stage in their journeys when—with one cliff-hanging revelation—the book comes to an abrupt end.

Reading The Passage is certainly an intriguing experience—but, unfortunately, it isn’t a satisfying one. Though the characters and their mysterious journey will keep you reading—even when it means slogging through some of the slower, heavier sections that come in the book’s latter half—the tauntingly anti-climactic conclusion is a serious disappointment. I doubt that I’ll be continuing the adventure when the sequel is released.

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