The Passage by Justin Cronin
My older brother read The Passage during an overseas business trip and liked it well enough to give a copy to me for my 40th birthday last November. He also got me a stellar Van Morrison record. Thanks, bro - you really nailed the gifts this time! Van’s the man and The The Passage was excellent.

Basically, we are in the near future (can’t recall if a date is specified) and there’s a catastrophic failure during a scientific experiment which was attempting to create a group of immortal super-soldiers. These creatures eventually get nicknamed “virals”, because they are aggressive, blood-thirsty, monster-vampire-zombies that bite you and then you become one of them. These things kill everyone, escape the facility in which they were made, then go on to multiply and terrorize the nation. However, right before this disaster, it turns out the scientists successfully made a stable version of the virus and injected it into a young girl named Amy. So, despite all the bloodshed and the seemingly hopeless future - there is one who can save us all. But she’ll need some help.

It’s tough to write a quick summary of this novel without it sounding like a familiar mash-up of post-apocalypse/zombie/sci-fi/horror themes we’ve all encountered before. Trust me, it’s not. Mr. Cronin has written a deep, thoughtful, frightening, epic story with plenty of twisty surprises and I thoroughly enjoyed every bit. The virals are intriguing because it’s not just the scary, physical danger they threaten with - there are psychological levels as well. The author has us spend some time with these things in the beginning as the story is set up, so you truly know their origins and realize the horror they represent. And then, as the chaos unfolds, you realize you are caught completely off-guard by what they actually can do, the true measure of their powers.

On the other side, we have the last remaining human survivors - who are all also interesting, fascinating characters. The mysterious Amy, the FBI agent Wolgast who helps her in the start, then you have Peter, Theo, Alicia and the other militant colonists who pick up Amy’s journey and help her to the end. The characters have side stories and backstories all throughout the book, so you fully understand them all and feel connected to their struggles. Mr. Cronin expertly jumps around in time too, telling his tale in multiple formats from from different perspectives to show us the scope and world-wide impact of the unfolding events. And, of course, he leaves just enough mysteries unsolved and then finally drops a massive cliffhanger on us at the end to set up books 2 and 3 of the trilogy.

The The Passage is a long, complex, challenging read that’s worth the effort. Obvious comparisons are King’s The Stand (haven’t read it) and McCarthy’s The Road (have read it). Fans of The Road should dig this one too since there are certainly similar elements as the characters struggle against all odds - constantly facing extreme danger as they press forth to do what they believe is right and best, whilst forever yearning for safe shelter, food and transport. But once you add in the viral monsters and their different levels of threat, plus you spice it all up with comprehensive, well-planned, well-executed storytelling - well then you have a truly unique,mesmerizing novel.

Definitely for adults only with lots of violence and adult situations (no graphic sex though). Best for “Walking Dead” fans, scary sci-fi fans, apocalypse fans, and any other serious book lovers who have what it takes to survive at all costs on this grueling journey to the end of... The The Passage.

Happy Reading and GOOD LUCK!