The Passage (The Passage #1)

End Date:  March 26

Author:  Justin Cronin

Published:  2010

Genre:  Horror

Pages:  766 (hardcover)

Selected By:  Lady Esbe

Average Score:  Scoring Great Book

This is the story of Amy – abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions.  But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her.  As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape – but he can’t stop society’s collapse.  And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.” – adapted from the Goodreads summary.

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Gigglemug Reviews

Lady Esbe: Scoring Loved Book

Since the first time I’ve read this novel, it’s been my favorite.  So far, it’s my absolute favorite series.  I’m not a big fan of horror and this book would be classified as horror, but I see so much more in it. Justin Cronin deftly opens us up to a world that we are quite familiar with and leads us on to a world that we would have no clue in how to survive.

The main factor here is the Alpha and Omega.  Now I will attempt to stay away from recounting the novel itself, but there are some key things we need to delve into first.  Cronin begins the story by introducing us to who I deem the Omega and her beginning.  While Amy was young, she learned to be quiet and listen to her surroundings for clues on how to behave and respond to those things going on around her.  We are then introduced to the Alpha, Dr. Ian Fanning.  I believe ultimately this is where the series will end, with the Alpha and Omega (but I feel I’m forgetting something very important that happened in sequel The Twelve that may affect this showdown).

It is a tale of poorly-thought-out choices and destruction:  Dr. Fanning was a willing participant on an expedition lead by Dr. Leer to the jungles of South America in search of a fantastical virus that seemingly led to improvement, possibly curing some cancer patients who had inadvertently contracted the virus on what was their last hurrah.  Upon arrival in South America, Leer and his cohorts were met with unexpected difficulties, leaving over half of them dead and Fanning infected with this virus.  In an attempt to militarize the virus, the government whisks these scientists away, one as a researcher and the other as the test subject.  However, you cannot have one test subject to be effective.

This leads us to the Twelve and where I believe the caca hit the fan.  Knowing that the virus was deemed the “vampire” virus, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What genius thought it was a great idea to utilize death row inmates as test subjects?”  While ultimately there would be no great loss to society if they succumbed to the testing; what would happen if they didn’t, should have been the question on the minds of the powers that be.  Most of these men are unrepentant killers, so yes, this will end horribly to say the least.  This is also the point where I kept getting confused, as there are twelve, plus the alpha and omega and it is hard to keep them straight.  However, in case you read and couldn’t keep it straight here you go:  Babcock, Morrison, Chavez, Baffes, Turrell, Winston, Sosa, Echols, Lambright, Martinez, Reinhardt and Carter.  Now of these men, only one made you think of the wrongfully accused and that was Carter.

Carter wasn’t a bright man, and of the test subjects that were “criminals”, he was the only one innocent of the crime of which he was accused.  However, he was so racked with guilt and loneliness that he accepted his fate because he loved his alleged victim and would have died with her if that would have made her happy.  Ultimately, Carter agreed to be apart of the trial so that he could understand or piece together what he hadn’t been able to fathom while his dearly departed was alive.  There is hurt, regret and a desire to do penance for something that was beyond his control.  For this, I felt extremely sorry for Carter.  It was like he was a victim of circumstance all his life and just one more thing to get put on death row and now to become immortal was just too much.

I must say that the first half of the book catches you and drives you forward and I was more intrigued by the characters of the old world in Wolgast, Lacy and Amy.  Their supporting characters served a great purpose and honestly, my review would go one for ten pages or more if I analyze every little thing.  From the kidnapping of Amy to the fall of world as we know it, I was enthralled.  Cronin does such a great job of depicting the events and circumstances leading to the fall that you can’t help but see some poetic justice so to speak.  For instance, the grooming of the “sweeps” or caretakers of the test subjects was striking to me.  These men were all pedophiles or sex offenders of some nature who had been chemically castrated.  If you think of how a pedophile grooms a child to be ready to be molested, these sweeps were groomed by their charges to unleash them onto the unsuspecting world.  Yet another poor decision on the powers that be.  While using the “dregs” of society seems ideal, it is inherently a double-edged sword because the risks are quite apparent from the outside looking in.  Furthermore, why did it only occur to the sweeps that the eating behavior of the subjects was peculiar?  Seriously, the sweeps are under-educated and not really known to be the most cerebral lot, but they did at least observe there was something amiss in the Twelve eating nine of their prey vice the full ten.  It becomes very apparent when things fall apart this is how they would end up reshaping the world in their image.

I recall the first time I read this that I had to put it down for a day or two to get over the fall.  It was traumatizing in a wonderful way.  I could vividly picture the events of that night.  *****SPOILER ALERT***** >>> The carnage, the chaos and ultimately being devastated by the loss of Lacy and even Doyle (who I have no real love for) just gave me pause.  <<< *****END SPOILER*****  Yes, this is my third reading (and I don’t do rereads really) and I still had to put it down because it was draining.  Fantastically draining.

This is also a tale of sacrifice and devotion:  With the fall we have the redemption of Wolgast.  There is an overwhelming sadness in this charismatic and intuitive man.  He and his partner, Doyle, are charged with collecting the test subjects and neither much care to ask the reason why. . . at least until they were asked to retrieve a six year old girl.  Wolgast was morally opposed from the start when he found out that Amy was a child.  Who decides it’s okay to scoop up a young child and use them as a guinea pig?  Wolgast immediately sees the child he lost in Amy and the willingness to protect her was immediate until the day he had to part ways with Amy.  However, there is a devotion to Amy that is more than mere protector, but possibly father figure as well.

As we move into the new world we find that it is harsh post-apocalyptic environment that takes us back to a simpler time.  There is a loss of civilization so to speak.  When we first arrive into the new world, we have no widespread electricity, no communication between the colonies and there is very little technology to be had with even fewer individuals who know how to maintain said technologies.  Travel by foot and horseback reign supreme.

Further devotion is demonstrated by Amy’s newfound cohorts in Peter, Sara, Caleb, Michael and Hollis.  While I believe that Peter and Sara are truly devoted to Amy and finding the source of the mystery of Amy.  However, he may have been pushed through grief and his inexplicable attraction for the young woman that he has met.  Sara’s bond to the girl is also undeniable and tenable.  She is selfless and the caregiver for this unlikely band of adventurers and oftentimes the voice of reason.  What story would be complete without a loveable sidekick who is completely down with the cause?  We have that in Caleb.  Michael represents the brains of the operation.  He’s eager to learn all there is and likely the reason the team can function beyond the walls of their safe haven.  “Colonies”, no modern conveniences like telephone, internet and the like.  These people take comfort in the light that is generated to safeguard their homes from the monsters in the night and where Michael offers comfort and security in his technological ability, Hollis offers it in ability to fight and be a protector as part of the Watch of First Colony.  Hollis is quick to find the humor but extremely serious and devoted to keeping his fellow First Colonial’s safe and subsequently his travel companions.

For those who read the novel, know that I conspicuously left off Alicia.  It is my firm belief that Alicia did not set out with this group as an act of devotion, but her love of being adventurous and a bad ass.  Alicia Blades is handy in a fight, I won’t knock her on that.  However, her character was so arrogant, so pig-headed and reckless soldier, that I found it hard to like her.  In fact, I don’t like her at all.  Thank you, Mr. Cronin for giving us a “strong” female character, but I don’t really care for Alicia’s brand of strength.  She’s quick to speak her mind and quick to lay down the gauntlet, but she rarely thinks before charging into a situation.  In the past, I have said I find that to be a uniquely male trait.  One could argue that because they live in a harsh world, and she was raised by a soldier, there is no other way that she could have turned out.  I find that untrue, there is something in Alicia that makes her feel like she must prove to everyone around her that she is the biggest, baddest kid on the block and that is extremely annoying to me.  Her thinly veiled claim on Peter is also annoying, in this she is definitely female.  She asks the little manipulative questions of Peter regarding Sarah and his feelings for her.  Yes, everyone deserves someone and so does Alicia, I just despise her character so much that I couldn’t even feel empathy for her in this or when she has goes through her transformation.

*****SPOILER ALERT***** >>>  While it is a logical choice for Cronin to allow Alicia to become what the project intended, a super-soldier, I was just left with the feeling of being even more annoyed.  She was hard to stomach as human, now she’s super human.  How much more reckless will she become in her plight to prove that she is better than every soldier out there?  How many lives will she cost?  Those are the nagging things at the forefront of my mind and I couldn’t enjoy that it was a strong woman who is ultimately the ultimate soldier.  I admit I groaned when she emerged from the cabin in all her newfound glory.  Yep, that’s how much I don’t like her.  <<< *****END SPOILER*****

This book has some epic scenes. It also has scenes that makes you grimace in the graphic nature in which decimation is inflicted and is imprinted on your mind for weeks to come.  However, something very poignant, no matter what, is that there is also the message that everyone wants to come home.  The Watch was charged with keeping the vampires out of First Colony and also to watch for those who were “taken up” by the vampires (and ultimately infected with the virus to become the “children” of the monster who created their line).  These people would return home and “The Mercy” would be performed, putting the person out of the misery of this horrid existence.  What is also important to note is that even the Twelve would want to go home.  After breaking free of the test facility, they returned to, if not their birthplace, their old stomping grounds, or the place they considered to be home.  Everyone wants to go home, man or monster, they share a common desire.

I could honestly write a ten page analysis on this book, and there is so much to discuss.  I only picked the subjects that stood out most for me.   I’m hoping that the first time readers enjoyed it, despite some of the gory parts. I hope that at the end of the first reading, people had the same reaction I had.  While the book was draining and intense and epic, it ended in a cliffhanger and I almost threw my kindle across the room, yelling “Seriously?  That’s how this ends?!”  But I immediately recovered my senses and began to think, “I must read the next installment as soon as it is available.”  I did, and it is equally as fantastic as this rendition.  Hopefully by the end of the series in June, I’ll be able to say which book I enjoyed the most in the series.  Mr. Cronin, my hats off to you.  I read his work and think: This is what modern writers should aspire to, the maturity of writing and the depths and ability to capture someone and make them want to read a seven hundred page book in two days.

Esbe’s Favorite Character(s):  Wolgast, Amy, Lacey, and Hollis.

Lady Esbe read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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Elle Tea:Scoring Great Book

I had read The Passage once before when it first came out, so I was thrilled when Esbe said she was picking it as our March read – the final installment of the trilogy is set to be released in June, and I’d been mulling over re-reading the first two books before diving into the third… but, while the prospect of re-reading The Twelve was pretty exciting, there was something about The Passage, something that I couldn’t remember but that left me with the initial response to that internal proposal of, “Let’s not, and say we did.”

“Grief was a place where a person went alone.  It was like a room without doors, and what happened in that room, all the anger and the pain you felt, was meant to stay there, nobody’s business but yours.”

I remember what it was now.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the book tremendously, but it’s a bit of a puzzler… I mean… Well, first off, what is it, exactly?  Is it horror?  Is it sci-fi?  Is it a coming-of-age story or a gorefest?  What is it?!  I’ve read it twice, and I still don’t know.  It starts off as fairly standard “scientists searching for death-cure head to the Amazon only to have their barely-funded passion project taken over by the military brass who want to make super-soldiers” sci-fi fodder, then quickly moves into the realm of conspiracies before morphing into a vampire thriller that somehow gives birth to a melodrama.  The Passage is what you would get if The Stand and The Strain could somehow breed with one another and then gave up their strange lovechild to be raised in the household of The Road and East of Eden.   And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s an interesting take, though not altogether original (as I said above, the novel is very reminiscent of others across various genres), but it is a testament to Cronin’s skill as an author that this mishmash manages to work – and not just work but also still pop out some surprises along the way.

“No one, not even his father, had told him how beautiful the night sky was, how it made you feel both small and large at the same time, while also a part of something vast and eternal.”

The first 25% or so of the novel is made up of familiar modern threads: a couple of FBI spooks go about completing their assignment; a woman tries to make ends meet while keeping her daughter safe; a death-row inmate sits, forgotten and alone, awaiting the inevitable.  Also included within the first-quarter of the book is a majority of our science-fiction content, complete with super-secret laboratories manned by driven scientists and their relatively simple-minded staff, all of whom are guarded by your standard mix of cold-blooded mercs and well-meaning soldiers.  This first 25% is actually my favorite of the entire book: the characters are well-rounded and easy to relate to, and I prefer the coverage of the fall from grace more than the wallowing in the muck and darkness of hell.  Wolgast and Amy are my favorite characters, and following them as they struggle for survival as the world becomes suddenly unfamiliar and entirely threatening is infinitely more interesting to me than the dramatically dysfunctional denizens of First Colony or the collection of inbred freaks known as Haven.

“Courage is easy, when the alternative is getting killed.”

But that last 75% is still quite good – it just needed to be prefaced with Monty Python’s Flying Circus‘s catchphrase:  “And now for something completely different!”  This last bulk of the novel is predominantly focused on a group of survivors living at a settlement in California a hundred years after the initial outbreak and also includes brief snippets of information provided by people living a thousand years in the future.  The super-fast-forward into the future combined with the fact that those people are living a thousand years ahead but looking nine-hundred-years behind at the colonists of our California settlement (who are almost a hundred years ahead of us) can be a little confusing; I remember at least once having to remind BillMo of just which time pertained to the inhabitants of First Colony.

“Mankind had built a world that would take a hundred years to die.  A century for the last light to go out.”

My only complaints about The Passage – the only reasons this book wasn’t a five-cup read for me – are all firmly gathered in that last 75%.  And in the grand scheme of things, they’re quite small complaints, as the story itself is really interesting.  The first, the easiest to cover, is that it’s never completely clear just why a small child is able to maintain all of the good attributes extracted from the vampire virus without ever manifesting any of the nasty ones.  Second, the author makes it fairly clear what the results are for crossing path with a Viral (vampire): death or deathlessness – the Virals either kill you, or they bring you into the fold to become one of The Many.  And for almost one-hundred years, it’s clear that that rule holds true… until our new main characters are sorted and set aside from the other members of their settlement, at which point a new option suddenly arises – a new option which clearly serves to give our not-so-merry band of wayward travelers a serious advantage.  Third, there’s a whole bit about a train that really didn’t make any sense to me.  I mean… I get why the people who wanted to use the train worked on it… but it’s been a hundred years!  There’s no guarantee the tracks are still usable, there’s no way for anyone to be entirely sure that they know what they’re doing on this train (I mean, by this point in the story we’re at least two generations away from the last people who would have ever seen a real life train in action, right??!!), and they decide the best time to use said train is… at night?!  When the Virals are out ‘n about?!  What the what??!!  Lastly, I just didn’t like the cast nearly as much as I did in that first segment; that Cronin can write sympathetic, in-depth characters is obvious – Wolgast is his brain-child, as are the elusive but well-developed minor characters of Dr. Lear and the child molester Lawrence Grey  – but his choice of focus for that last chunk of the book was just… well… blah to me.  Like Esbe and BillMo, I really disliked Alicia: she seemed wooden and shallow, as if she was a woman pretending to be the stereotypical soldier-guy (no-nonsense, emotionally hardened, etc.), which I think is a terrible way to look at what should define toughness.  I can appreciate Cronin putting in a warrior woman, but I’d appreciate it more if she was a little less Private Vasquez.  Apparently even during the end of the world, women are either nurses or broodmares – unless they pretend to be “a dude,” at which point they’ll finally be taken seriously.  Except by other women.  Who will roll their eyes and sigh.

“The war – the real war, the one that had been going on for a thousand years and would go on for a thousand more – the war between Us and Them, between the Haves and the Have-Nots, between my gods and your gods, whoever you are – would be fought by men like Richards: men with faces you didn’t notice and couldn’t remember, dressed as busboys or cab drivers or mailmen, with silencers tucked up their sleeves.  It would be fought by young mothers pushing ten pounds of C-4 in baby strollers and schoolgirls boarding subways with vials of sarin hidden in the Hello Kitty backpacks.  It would be fought out of the beds of pickup trucks and blandly anonymous hotel rooms near airports and mountain caves near nothing at all; it would be waged on train platforms and cruise ships, in malls and movie theaters and mosques, in country and in city, in darkness and by day.  It would be fought in the name of Allah or Kurdish nationalism or Jews for Jesus or the New York Yankees – the subjects hadn’t changed, they never would, all coming down, after you’d boiled away the bullshit, to somebody’s quarterly earnings report and who got to sit where.”

I previously also read The Twelve (erm… yeah… in a single day) and can say that it is a much stronger, more cohesive, more engrossing book with a much more solid cast of new characters and better development of the old crew.  I mean… I read that sucker in a day, because I just had to know what was happening.  So, in closing I will say that I do recommend The Passage to anyone who loves a creepy story with some rather thought-provoking elements about war and the impact of humans on the world.  If nothing else, it’s a necessary path to get to The Twelve, which is more than worth any of the little niggling complaints I had above.

Elle’s Favorite Character:  Brad Wolgast, Amy Bellafonte, Lacey Kudoto, and Michael Fisher.

Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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BillMo: Scoring Great Book

I had to take a teacup away because I did feel like it was two different books in one – the first part of the book seemed a little more adult to me, but when when we got to the second half it reminded me of a YA-genre book.  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some young adult books, but in this case it was a little disjointing when it was split into two so very different books.

“God invented Iowa, he always said, so people could leave it and never come back.”

In the first part of the book I really like Lacey.  She reminds me of our very own Elle, especially when she was describing the deep sadness she felt for the animals in the zoo.  I also really like almost all the characters from this first part and think Mr. Cronin did a really good job of making me care about everyone.

“’Why not the marshals?  Isn’t this more up their alley?’  Sykes shook his head dismissively.  ‘Glorified corrections officers, if you’ll excuse my saying so.  Believe me, we started there.  If I had a sofa I needed carried up the stairs, they’d be the first guys I’d call.  But for this, no.’ ”

In the second half of the book I really like Caleb and Hollis.  There is something about a burly man with a beard that just screams awesomeness, this would be Hollis.  And as for Caleb he was our goofy kid of comic relief.  But I really didn’t like Alicia – she came across to me as too cocky and coy.  She did not give me a good feeling when we were around her, and I could not truly understand her motives.

“That was when carter realized what the feeling was.  He felt seen.  Like all along he’d been a ghost without knowing it.”

I felt very sorry for Anthony Carter.  I really wanted good things to happen for him because he didn’t deserve any part of his reality.  His story reminded me of a more dramatic and tragic version of The Blind Side.

For those of you who haven’t read the novel yet, I will say there was one part that really stands out to me as having been full of stupid – not the story but the characters as a whole all just go completely dumb.  If you haven’t read it, I’ll simply say here that it was a poor decision, and I am sincerely disappointed in the actions of the characters involved.  If you have read it… *****SPOILER ALERT***** >>>  Not long after getting to the Colony in the second half of the book, some of our characters leave the safety of their town and, during their little jaunt across the post-apocalyptic landscape, they come upon a library.  Based on what they see in the library they decide their best course of action is to… destroy it.  At this point, I just have to ask: “How f***ing stupid are you?!  You are in an end-of-days scenario, and humans are back near the bottom rungs of the food chain – not only that, but we serve as the sole food source for the apex predator.  You are alone out in the middle of nogodda** where, toddling along near a location where dozens of things are hanging out that would love nothing more than to devour you, and your big plan is to set the f***ing building on f***ing fire?!  Aaarrrrgggghhhh, you morons!!!!”  <<< *****END SPOILER*****

“The room was dark but hid nothing from his eyes, because the darkness was part of him now.”

I thought the author did a good job of showing how the combination of necessity and the passage of time can cause people to forget things that were once so commonplace and, in some instances, considered to be so necessary in times before.  For example, it was really touching to me when one of our characters happens upon what he believes to be a herd of especially colorful horses… until he realized it was what had been known in “the world before” as a carousel.

“The ashes were full of people, he knew.  A raining ash of souls.

The vampires themselves were very scary, reminding me of those seen in 30 Days of Night.  But besides the obvious monsters, there were things that were very disturbing in this book, and some of the most disturbing scenes are also involving the human characters and which I feel could really happen in an apocalypse scenario.  I mean… we’d like to think that we’re all civilized and shit, but at the end of the day we’re just animals, and, like all other animals, we will do just about anything to ensure our own individual survival.  One of the scenes that stands out most to me right now involves a group of people who possess what amounts to little more than breeding stock, to such a degree that they even ask one of our main male characters about “his females.”  I mean.  Ew.  Ew, ew, eeeeewwww.

“A kind of slow nibbling, of being eaten away; that’s what life did, that was how it felt.”

Besides Alicia, I also disliked Maus.  She was stupid and immature, and I couldn’t understand a lot of her motives.   Now that I’m writing this out, though, I think this persistent feeling of the characters’ immaturity and lapses into immaturity for some of our wiser and more seasoned characters may be a main factor into why I didn’t relate well to the characters in the second half of the book.  If you are in your early- to mid-twenties, in a post apocalyptic world with things that want to eat your face off on a regular basis, I think you would be more mature than the group of individuals who we spend most of our time with.  Peter was by far the best of them all, and the remainder were just pretty immature for what they were supposed to have been born and brought up into.  I’d even sometimes forget how old they actually were supposed to be and start picturing them as teenagers in my head sometimes.

“But I suppose it’s part of being old to feel that way, half in one world and half in the other, all of it mixed together in mind.”

I liked this book so much that I have already started the second in the series, The Twelve, so I’ll be prepared when the third and final book is released in June.  And I already like the sequel better than the first, which is something I’ve actually never run across before – usually the first book in a series is the best and they fizzle out, but Cronin seems to have just cut his teeth (har har) on The Passage and then come out full-grown and scarier with The Twelve.

If you like vampires to brood over their pitiful existences while using their willpower to telepathically entice you to rip off your corset or prefer that they be glittery emo teenagers who just want you to love them for who they are, then this might not be the novel for you.  But if you, like me, prefer them to be portrayed as the scary things that lurk in the night, who have no use for you other than to rip out your throat and feast upon your smooshy bits, who just.don’ about you, well… I cannot recommend this book – this series – enough.

I’d now like to leave you with what to me was the creepiest quote of the entire novel.  It sounded very… prayerlike, and the scene where it appeared was disturbing in its mix of devotion, terror, and obedience:

“Bring them to me.  Bring me one and then another.  Bring them that you should live in this way and no other.”

BillMo’s Favorite Character(s):  Amy, Lacey, Caleb, and Hollis.

BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Lady Esbe says:

    Awesome discussion ladies. You definitely managed to put a finger on what I couldn’t quite name. I think we are all agreed, second half of the book was full of igits. But I’m super psyched everyone enjoyed it. “If you like vampires to brood over their pitiful existences …this might not be the novel for you! I couldn’t stop laughing. Love it!!! So, two rereads on The Twelve pending (Elle & myself) and one new read in Billmo. Wootwoot!

    Liked by 1 person


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