Author: Justin Cronin
First published: 2010 (USA & Germany)
Original title: The Passage
First off… it may seem strange that I’m writing book reviews in English about books I’ve read in German. One thing is: that whole blog is written in English although I’m German, so there’s that. And also, many – albeit not all – books I’m talking about were also published in English.
Second: this blog doesn’t exist because I’m a great writer or even book reviewer. There are a ton of wonderful book blog writers out there who do a better job, so please bear with me.
Okay, so let’s start. But wait: before we start with the actual book, let me tell you how I learned about it. I don’t know about you, but I always like to hear where people heard about books and why they chose the very one they are reading.
Der Übergang / The Passage is part one of the so called The Passage Trilogy, which consists of this one, part two called Die Zwölf / The Twelve and part three called Die Spiegelstadt / The City of Mirrors. The last one isn’t yet published in Germany but will be on October 31, 2016.
I saw the paperback of part 2 in a book shop while being out on vacation in August. Somehow the cover caught my eye. It was very thick (I love thick books) and I read the synopsis on the cover. It sounded good to me. Didn’t buy it immediately though. I first wanted to check out online reviews. When I did that later in the day, I found out that this was actually part 2 of a trilogy. Wouldn’t make sense to read it just now. I checked out what book #1 was all about. Didn’t sound bad, but I’ve got to say that I’m normally not the typical fantasy / horror (except for Stephen King) / dystopia fan. Yet somehow it sounded interesting enough to check it out. S, who’s much more into that genre, said she might want to read it. We then thought it would be fun if we read it together. Which would really be a total exception of the rule. We both have often very different tastes when it comes to books and hardly ever read the same stories. So this would surely be fun: reading something at the same time and being able to talk about it while doing so.
Coming into the picture now is our friend J, who’s an avid reader herself (and we both share the same opinion about certain books much more than S and I do). I thought it would be a good idea to ask her if she’d like to join us. Although I know she’s not the fantasy type herself, maybe we could all see how far we would get and talk about it. J thought the idea wasn’t bad and joined us.
And now about the book: it starts out in present time (or near future), where scientists create a certain kind of virus that – if it all works out well – makes people younger, strong and immortal. However, the newly created virus has to be tested and for that they use inmates who are practically on death row. The creator of the virus is called Zero, who is a surviving member of an expedition to Bolivia to check out a certain virus carried by bats. There are altogether 12 inmates who are all brought to a military compound and live in quarantine cells. All react differently to that virus, and not exactly positive. Then there’s Amy, a 6 year old girl, abandoned by her mother, living in a convent. The FBI agents who are responsible for recruiting the test persons are now ordered to pick up Amy in that convent. She has no parents/relatives anymore and makes for the next perfect test person. They inject a refined version of the virus into her. It’s expected that the virus will react differently in the body of a child and will not take on a rather violent form as it has happened by now with the other 12 test persons. In fact, these twelve are by now able to mind-control the staff and guards at the compound and eventually find a way to escape, killing almost everyone who’s in their way. Except for Amy and a FBI guy named Wolgast, who had collected her at the convent but since has felt responsible for her. He never thought it was a good idea in the first place, to bring a child into this. So he and Amy can escape to a mountain retreat where they keep hearing stories about how a strange virus keeps spreading, killing more and more people, turning others into vampires who go on and kill more people. After living there for several months, one day some nuclear device explodes not so far away and Wolgast is exposed to radiation. I’ll leave open here what happens next.
Fact is: part one ends here and we skip to more than 90 years later, the virals – that’s what those vampires are called now – have killed the majority of people living on Earth… except for a few who are living in a colony in California which is protected by high walls and very bright lights (as we all know, vampires don’t exactly fancy light).
Now we learn about completely different characters who have – for now – nothing to do with Amy, Wolgast or anyone we got to know in part 1. We learn how these people got to that colony and how they are managing their daily life there. Only one old lady is left who has memory of what the world looked like before the virus broke out.
A group of people in that colony become our main characters for the rest of the story. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked that whole new setting and all these people. The author took his sweet little time with introducing everything and everyone and it took me quite a while to warm up to this new scenery. However, it was actually really worth it. Couldn’t put it down anymore after a while. I understood why Cronin went such a long way to describe characters and settings to us and never rushed through anything.
For large parts I even felt reminded of The Walking Dead. A group of people trying to survive in a world where not zombies but vampires have killed almost all life on Earth and go out on adventures to find out whether there are more survivors. Thought the characters were very likable and I really felt with them through all their adventures. The storytelling was very intense and the author also goes into great detail, but all done in a very compelling way.
Yes we do meet Amy again at some point. Of course we do because she’s the only one who can save the world now, or is she?
S and I read the chapters almost simultaneously and were able to talk about everything as we read, so to say. J had dropped out quite early though… basically shortly after part 1 ended. Too bad. MUCH too early, if you ask me. You should have stayed with it for a bit more. I know there was a bit of a dread for a few chapters, but it went MUCH better after that.
However… S and I both enjoyed that novel very much. I would say that you don’t have to be a lover of vampire stories to enjoy this. It’s not your typical Dracula or even Twilight. I’ve also read many comparing it to Stephen King’s Das letzte Gefecht / The Stand. I wouldn’t say these two are comparable though. Yes they share the destruction of the world as we know it and people who have survived and are trying to rebuild it again… good ones and bad ones. But overall I wouldn’t really compare them. If I had to though, I’d always choose The Stand over this one. It’s one of the best novels of the genre that’s ever written IMO. And – along with Es / It – the best that Stephen King has ever brought to paper.
Still, Der Übergang / The Passage is a great novel. Looking forward to reading part 2.
By the way: I’ve read the eBook version. I’m sure it was a TON lighter than holding that very thick and heavy book for hours 😉