The Passage by Justin Cronin – Book Review

The Passage by Justin Cronin

Around the year 2015 or 2020, the United States government begins a new experiment, one aimed to ensure the pax Americana for many years to come. Instead of going through the expense and time of training soldiers just to have them die or be injured in the field, the military was hoping to find a way to modify soldiers to give them incredibly long lives and make them incredibly difficult to kill and injure. The secret seems to be in a virus discovered in the jungles of Bolivia. Of course, soldiers can’t just be injected with an unknown vaccine, so an arrangement is made to allow 12 Death Row inmates to keep their lives if they agree to be part of Project NOAH. Evidently nobody realized that a virus that causes immortality + convicted murderers = not good.

This background, along with the introduction of Amy and the first few years after BAD THINGS HAPPEN, comprise about the first 200 pages of the book. The next 560 pages take place about 100 years after the initial BAD THINGS, and are centered on a small enclave of survivors in what used to be California. I think this fact, that it takes 200 pages to get to the majority of the main characters, is a large part of the reason that “The Passage” lacked the necessary immediacy to be a great apocalyptic thriller.

That’s right, I said it was lacking and, therefore, not great. Minority opinion alert!

I know everyone loved this, but I just didn’t. I liked it, don’t get me wrong. The prose was competent at the worst and really quite lovely in some places. The idea of the story that Cronin created was also quite interesting. Mostly, the book was just way. too. long. Nearly 800 pages for the first book in a trilogy, I think it should have been 200-300 pages shorter. There were 450 pages in the middle during which nothing really grabbed me, and that’s not good. The excessive time it took me to be introduced to the main characters and the fairly uninteresting nature of the early part of their story kept me from really ever caring about them and, thus, detracted from the immediacy and fear that a book like this needs.

I might have been a little more tolerant of the book had a throwaway line early in the book about Jenna Bush being the governor of Texas been excluded. That sort of thing really annoys me, it is just trying much too hard to be clever and it seems very unsophisticated storytelling to me.

Overall a very interesting concept, but the execution left something to be desired – namely a strong editor. I will likely read the next two books in the series, but there’s no way I will be buying them in hardcover – I’ll wait for paperback or a copy from the library – and, honestly , I don’t think that you need to buy this one in hardcover either. If you don’t want to be left out of the discussion about it this summer, get on the library waitlist now.

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This review was done with a book received from a friend.
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33 comments to The Passage by Justin Cronin – Book Review

  • No, 450 pages that don’t grab you is not a good thing. I must say it is the first review of this book that did not love it, but when I read it shortly, I will see where I fall.

  • Knowing me and the way I feel about super ling books with missing editors, I might not like this too much either. That was my issue with The Stand. But I am willing to try out at least a few chapters since at this point I am in see for myself mode.

  • Amy

    I have to say that I’m with you so far Jen. I’m around page 350 and while I’m interesting and still reading, I am not super in to the story. I feel like there is a lot of randomness and disconnect so far between the sections, tooo many voices, and not a lot going on. Perhaps it will pick up though!

    • I agree, way too many voices with too little happening. I think a slower story works better with fewer voices so you can come to really care about the small things that happen to them.

  • This review doesn’t help my wavering about when to read this book! I hope I like it more than you, but I suspect I won’t – our tastes are often quite similar. I should really just stop reading reviews and get to the book instead!

  • I know lots of people are loving this book, but I’m not sure it’s for me, so I’m glad to read a minority opinion.

  • diane

    I would not have made it to page 450 if it did not grab me for sure. I am looking forward to reading it and hope it does interest me. thnanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • I think it has a hard time qualifying as a thriller. You’re right, it doesn’t have that sense of urgency. Nevertheless, I did really enjoy it, but I understand what you’re saying!

  • Arch

    I can totally relate to when you say that you didn’t like a book which everybody claims to be the most awaited summer release!!! The same thing happened to me when I read “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie”… All the reviews i read, had only great things to say about the book…well I did like the book but somehow it didn’t ‘WOW’ me…

    But yes, I am looking forward to reading “The Passage”….

    – Arch

  • I posted my review today also which is very similar to yours, so you are not alone (although there aren’t many of us!) :–)

  • Kay

    I appreciate all the points you made about this book. I’m planning on reading it later this summer, but I’m beginning to see some good stuff and some not-so-good stuff. In many ways, I like that because it gives me something to think about going into the read. For example, my book groups always have better discussion when there is some difference of opinion. Good job and thanks for sharing!

  • I usually read all of your posts, but I couldn’t today. I don’t want any spoilers! I will check back when I am done with The Passage myself. I hope I enjoy it a little more than you did though :(

  • Of course, I can’t read this until I finish the book! I;ll be back.

  • Having not started the trilogy with this one, you may have just saving me from reading three books. Now I’m not saying that the U.S. military hasn’t done some pretty boneheaded things, but injecting death row inmates w/ an immortality injection? I think I might just shut down on being able to enjoy the book right there.

  • I’m so wantting to read this one. For me it has more to do with seeing vampires as the bad guys again. I miss the days when vampires where evil and all they wanted to do was rip your throat out. I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews on this one so now I know to go into without really high expectations.

    • But the vampires barely are the bad guys. It is more that everyone knows they’re out there. Sure, there’s some death and destruction, but they aren’t really in-your-face bad like in The Strain (which is what I’d recommend if you really want bad vampires).

  • I am definitely worried about all the hype around the book, and I wish that this novel didn’t get that stellar status even before being released. I’m glad to read your opinion. I feel 800 pages is way too long to tell a story!

    • Surprisingly, I don’t actually think it is the hype that did it in for me. I think I would have felt the same about this book either way: promising, but didn’t quite follow through. It did make me more disappointed afterward that I hadn’t loved it, though.

  • I decided to read your review so that my expectations might be a bit lower when I read it.

    I love that it’s the Jenna Bush thing that got you. That sounds like how I react to little things. :)

  • I’ve read back-to-back less than stellar reviews on this one. It’s not my cup of tea, but my son would probably enjoy it!

  • This is the second review I’ve read today that weren’t in favor of this book. You both picked out the same elements too. I have this on my shelf and have been looking forward to it but now I’m not so sure. I’ll still be reading it but I’m glad I didn’t invest in the hard cover edition. Thanks for your review!

  • Nan

    I’ve been trying to decide if I should buy this book next week for my first book of summer vacation. I just don’t know if I want to commit to such a long book… in case I don’t love it. I might end up waiting for it at the library later in the summer.

  • So this one will be sitting on the shelf a little bit longer, I think. After all the fanfare I have been excited to read it, but think that my sense of urgency shouldn’t be as immediate as it has been. I appreciate the minority opinion!

  • Pam

    I borrowed this it’s SO HUGE. I haven’t read it yet.

  • Based on your review, I have a feeling it won’t be worth the long wait to order a copy through the library. The concept does seem really interesting, but I’ve never been one for thriller or suspense type books, especially ones that are 800 pages long!

  • Amy

    I’ve been back and forth on this one after reading a few reviews. I think I want to read it but I’ll be waiting for a library copy.

  • The idea is interesting, but I am unlikely to suffer through 50 dull pages, let alone 450. I think I’ll wait for the movie.

    And I agree – if you want bad vampires, The Strain is a great choice. No one sparkles in that one.

  • Oh thank you..

    I am so glad someone else didn’t like it. It took too long to get started, sagged in the middle and fizzled in the end. I wanted to like it and see why he got millions for it…but nope, just don’t get it.

  • KitCarson

    Just finished the book. I think the ending was very much on-target to make me want to read what comes next. Had to read that page several times to be sure I missed something….because I had NOT known this was to be a trilogy until I started to hunt for discussion groups. Yes, long, and some could have been cut, but really liked the passage of the characters in the story. Bring on more!

  • This was just a 3 stars for me too, makes me wondered if I miss something when there were so may VERY POSITIVE reviews out there!

    My review: