Sunday, 8 August 2010

REVIEW: The Passage by Justin Cronin

The passage I am Babcock.

It must be hard being a vampire these days, the top target of a well orchestrated character assassination, reduced to something only half as scary as a floppy-eared beagle. Today’s literature depicts you as a sparkling chandelier, or an overemotional pansy who falls madly in love with a human girl and relinquishes his burning thirst for warm, succulent human blood. You know ... the type that tastes really good.

You used to put the fear of God in people. Now ... now you’re just a whinny, emo bitch. Well, you’re not, but that’s how we humans see you.

If vampires did exist, and they read books and watched movies, I imagine therapists worldwide would see a drastic increase in their vampire clientele, and the number one question they would get from these depressed hunters of the night would be: how can I be myself again?

Those vamps lucky to have Justin Cronin as their therapist would surely thank him after a day’s session. And eat him afterwards.

I am Babcock.

My heartfelt apologies to anyone named Babcock. Discrimination in any form – race, sex, age, height, etc – should not be tolerated or encouraged. However, I’m not so sure I like the name “Babcock” anymore. It frightens me. You can thank Justin Cronin for that.

The Passage is a riveting epic. Justin Cronin has finally put the “V” back in Vampire. You would expect this sort of impressive storytelling from a YA author, considering YA is a genre customarily representative of excellent imagination, but just as England invented the beautiful game of football and Spain perfected it, YA made vampires immensely popular in this generation and now Justin Cronin has schooled the genre and its authors on how to write a real vampire novel.

To be honest, I’m not sure YA authors care that much. The genre has moved on to pastures new: angel paranormal romance. Or is it fairies? I forget.


Literary authors understand one concept: character-driven plots. It’s their lifeblood. It’s what they eat, breathe and sleep. Since Justin Cronin is technically one of them (The Passage is his first genre book) he utilises this particular expertise in developing an assemblage of diverse, interesting and invigorating characters that walk right out the pages of The Passage. They’re not classed into simple, cardboard-cutout groups of good and evil, but complex, human clusters of flaws and convictions.

Each character has a story to tell, from Amy, the mysterious and shrewd six-year-old, abandoned by her mother and distrustful of people in general, to Brad Wolgast, an FBI agent, haunted by his failed marriage to the love of his life and scarred by a missed opportunity on fatherhood, an opportunity that resurfaces when he meets Amy.

There’s Sister Lacey Antoinette Kudoto, from Sierra-Leone, who believes she can hear God, but her life is one big twist, and Anthony Carter, a soft spoken, homeless black man who somehow ends up on death row for a crime he did not commit, but willing to take the ultimate punishment – death – all in the name of love.

Clearly, Justin Cronin understands that America is not made up of only white people.

Cronin knows how to withhold information about characters and throw them at readers in tantalising bits. My heart twisted for Anthony Carter when I read the conclusion of his story.

If there is one criticism I have it’s that the characters introduced in Part IV (All Eyes), while well drawn out, are not as appealing as those in the previous parts.

Score: 10/10


The Passage stretches from somewhere around or before 2008 (Amy’s mother’s story) to more than a hundred years, right into the heart of a dystopian America, shattered, defeated and teeming with ferocious creatures of the night: virals, or vampires.

Justin shows us America we know it today, a Super Power embroiled in a seemingly never-ending war in the Middle East. A country left paranoid by terrorism (in the book Walmart sells Kevlar suits for babies). And then he shows us a new world born out of a devastating vampire apocalypse. A world where children are segregated from the outside, because reality – there are blood thirsty beasts, quick as light, roaming about, seeking to get you – is too traumatising for them.

It’s a dark, dark world. A world nearly bereft of hope.

The science behind the existence of vampires and how the vampire virus works in The Passage is well thought out, plausible and imaginative. It has to do with the thymus, a specialised organ in the immune system, located in the anterior superior mediastinum.

I don’t want to spoil the book by revealing everything.

Score: 10/10


Justin Cronin is a remarkable writer, I kid you not. His prose is engaging, touching, and brutal, all at the same time. Descriptions of places can sometimes be a bit too much, dragging on for quite a while, but it doesn’t hurt. And his dialogue writing is wow!

Score: 10/10


The United States of America loves policing the world, or at least that’s what a lot of people, other than Americans, say. In 2003, for whatever reason you might think – oil, justice, delusions of grandeur – America attacks a certain country in the Middle East. In 2014, the war is still going strong, and America is losing soldiers by the bucket load.

Desperation sets in. How do we avoid heavy infantry losses? How do we create soldiers who can easily despatch enemies?

Beyond that, how do we permanently defeat ailments like cancer?

A scientist, Dr Lear, thinks the answer is in Bolivia. Thus, Project Noah is born.

The expedition to Bolivia does not end well. Many die. Few return. One of the returnees is classed as Zero, a scientist named Fanning, who was infected by the vampire virus in Bolivia.

For Lear to complete his research and create a solution to America’s military and health problems he needs twelve candidates. The military decides that the twelve will be people who wouldn’t be missed, death row inmates. FBI agent, Brad Wolgast, a man who can pretty much sell water to a well, is tasked with the responsibility of convincing twelve inmates to sign away their lives to the United States government. These twelve inmates are: Babcock, Carter, Morrison, Chavez, Baffes, Turrell, Winston, Sosa, Echols, Lambright, Martinez, and Reinhardt (not listed in the correct order).

Lear then decides he needs a thirteenth candidate, a child. The Army orders Wolgast to apprehend and deliver a six-year-old girl, Amy Harper Bellanfonte.

Wolgast cannot do it.

Long story short, the virals, the Twelve plus Zero, break out of the facility, and in less than a few months, they overpower America.

One hundred years later, the last surviving Americans living in a small, high-walled colony, resolve to embark on a mission to save themselves and their families, because, you see, the batteries powering the lights outside their colony, the lights preventing the vampires from breaching their walls at night, is fading fast, and if they don’t find an alternative means of survival, they’ll all be dead.

Need I say more?

Score: 10/10


If you’re an aspiring writer, read this book. Trust me, there’s much to learn from Justin Cronin’s tome. If you’re just a reader looking for something thrilling to chew on, The Passage will satiate your appetite and leave you wanting more.

Score: 10/10


  1. I ADORED this book. It was funny because I had a drink with someone who graduated from the Iowa Writer's Workshop a few years ahead of him, and he couldn't say enough bad stuff about Cronin because he *sold out* (though he hadn't read the book). To me, Cronin was smart. He took his talents and applied them where the market showed promise and wrote a remarkable book. I also give this book 10/10 thumbs up! :)

  2. Wow - great review. you have me pretty pumped for this book now - I have it waiting for me to pick it up from the library.

    love thrillers and this one has been getting lots of attention.

    also, how freaky/cool is that cover! we have the same edition here in Australia

  3. @ Nomes, yeah, cover is great. You need to read this book. Man, I loved it so much. Problem is, because I read it, now a lot of books are starting to suck. I call it the Justin Cronin Syndrome.

    @ Jill, lol yeah I have a friend who said the same thing: Cronin sold out. Hahahaha. I don't think he sold out. If anyone's to blame it's his daughter; she's the one who made him write the book lol Cronin does utilise his literary skills in this book, and it's a deadly combination. Makes me wonder how many literary fiction writers out there really have some kind of hidden love for genre fiction lol


Keep it clean and constructive. Thanks.