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Book: The Passage

November 22, 2010
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I wasn’t going to read this, but then last week I went to the library and there it was on the “New” shelf, all shiny and tempting. It was stamped “7-Day Loan” so I knew it’d better be good if I was going to read a 700+ page book in a week. Like the characters in the end, I was racing to the finish, but I did it! Woohoo!

So I wasn’t going to read this book at all. I’m really not into post-apocalyptic stories. I don’t like dystopian novels. I get really scared by things like zombies and the “virals” in this book. Also, it sounded so similar to The Stand, which I loved, that I figured I’d already read this sort of book before. But then there it was, and I was seized with That Feeling. You know the one. “Oooooh. I want to read that.” And once that feeling happens, I’m powerless.

So I read it. And yes, it was really a lot like The Stand. But The Stand was really, really good, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It was also a little like Narnia. And various other books I’ve read, including The Relic, The Hot Zone, etc.. It was not exactly a new story, let’s just put it that way. But again, it was a lot like a lot of really good stories. If you’re going to rewrite a classic storyline, you might as well pick a good one.

So the year is around 2017. Not so far in the future. A secret Army group is doing what those darn secret Army groups do: creating The Ultimate Weapon. Using human test subjects, they have isolated a rare virus and created the ultimate killing machine: a mindless, bloodthirsty vampire-like husk of a former human. With abnormal strength and agility, nearly indestructible skin and rows of sharp teeth, the first “virals” are really pretty scary when they first make their appearance in the book. I don’t know why these “monsters” got to me, but they really did. They had me spooked all week.

What spooked me more was the hopelessness that soon emerges from various storylines. The man who rounds up the human subjects from Death Row: a sad man, knowing that what he is doing is somehow wrong, but powerless to quit (even though he tries). The men chosen for the testing: hollow shells of men, with no one who will miss them if they disappear off the face of the earth. The sad mother caught in a downward spiral that eventually leads her to give up her beloved daughter Amy. And then, eventually, the entire human race, facing certain death. A horrible death in the night. Maybe not tonight, maybe not tomorrow night, but soon. And certain.

The whole apocalyptic thing really disturbs me. When I was little, I used to sometimes get my hands on issues of trashy news magazines like The Enquirer. I think my neighbor’s mom used to get them. Sometimes the stories in these really frightened me. The end-of-the-world predictions. The futility of it all — if the world is going to end in 2000, 2012, 2017… what’s the point? I get dragged down pretty easily by dystopian stories and this was no exception. All week I felt vaguely anxious and disturbed.

The first part of the book is especially effective. I was scared nearly the entire first 1/3 of the book, edge-of-my-seat. Horrified. Although I was seriously disturbed by the book, I had to keep reading. The second part, after the near-destruction of the human race, was a little slow. I had to skim some of this — since I had to finish in a week, I had no time to leisurely page through and take my time trying to care about the abundance of sketched-out characters.

The last third really picks up and I was totally into the story again. The strange cult-like colony was spooky, the interpersonal relationships got more interesting (finally), and the journey got more intense.

So all in all, it was worth a week of intense reading attention. I liked this a lot, although I do have a few criticisms. I felt like the characters were fairly shallowly sketched. It took me a long time to figure out that Peter was actually a main character, because he was so sketchy. Nobody is particularly sympathetic — not that they are unsympathetic, exactly — it’s more that they are so roughly drawn and the book is more action-oriented, that I didn’t really care about any of them. Which is probably good because some of them died. I also was a little annoyed that the book felt so derivative — here it was, being hailed as THE book to read this year, and it’s basically a rewrite of any number of other stories. There were also a few bits of storyline that didn’t go anywhere, although I’m assuming they will be picked up in the sequels. Some of the story just didn’t make very much sense. Again, hoping these mysteries are solved in the subsequent books.

The first part and the last part are really pretty good reading, and of course since it ended on somewhat of a cliffhanger note, I’m going to have to read the other two books (apparently there is a trilogy planned).

I say this was definitely worth reading. It must have been if I crammed it all into a week. Not as good as The Terror (another big fat scary book), but definitely well worth reading. Although you might want to budget more time than a week.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. November 22, 2010 11:45 am

    James just finished this one about a week ago. He wasn’t going to read it either but I kept telling him that there was lots of blog buzz about it and it supposedly was really good. Of course he ended up not liking it and was kind enough to not blame me for convincing him to read it.

    • November 22, 2010 11:57 am

      I was wondering if James had read it. I liked it, but there were some REALLY slow parts. I’d love to know what he thought of it.

  2. November 22, 2010 2:55 pm

    I know I could never make it through the book…I frightened myself just reading your blog about it! lol πŸ™‚

  3. November 22, 2010 4:46 pm

    i dont think i could do this one. although your review reminded me to add The Terror to my ‘request from the library’ list.

    • November 23, 2010 8:10 am

      The Terror is a PERFECT winter book. I liked it better than The Passage. It’s definitely Top 10 of the last five years, maybe even in the ultimate Top 20. πŸ™‚

  4. November 22, 2010 8:58 pm

    Wow. I might need to check into this one.

    700 pages in a week? Woah.

    • November 23, 2010 8:11 am

      I’d recommend it, especially if you have more than a week to read it. It was worth reading although the middle section dragged a little.

  5. November 23, 2010 3:58 am

    There’s no way I could plow through a book like that in seven days. By the time I settle in for the night, my eyelids are drooping.

    • November 23, 2010 8:11 am

      I had to work at it! I read for 3 hours straight on Sunday to finish it up.

  6. November 23, 2010 12:12 pm

    I loved The Terror until the last 100 pages or so. Then it sort of fell apart for me. I’m very curious to read this one but have held off until I can buy it for my e-reader (it’s a little too hefty for me to haul around on the subway!). A friend who read it said she was frustrated by the ending because it felt very much like it was hinting at a sequel.

    • November 23, 2010 12:33 pm

      I know what you mean about The Terror, but I still loved it. I think a trilogy is planned for The Passage — it DEFINITELY hinted at a sequel at the end, which was annoying, but knowing that two more are coming makes it make more sense.

  7. November 27, 2010 4:57 pm

    I want to read this! But not as a hardcover, too heavy for me to carry around. I’m so impatient waiting for the softcover to come out! Your review makes me think it will hold up well to The Stand, and I’m very happy to see The Terror mentioned again. That book has never left me, it is such a good horror book. So memorable. So The Passage is definitely worth reading if you put in such good company!

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