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WesternSFA
The Passage
By Justin Cronin
Ballantine Books, $7.99, 879pp
Release Date: July 31, 2012
This was a hefty tome but I finished it in record time. And that should tell you something right off. It was very reminiscent of Stephen King’s “The Stand;” I’m surprised more people haven’t called it a rip-off. It’s not the same story, well – not completely…

As in “The Stand”, the US government, in its finite wisdom, found a virus and tinkered with it, and then accidently released it. It killed almost everyone but turned one in ten people into a vampire; which is still an awful lot of vampires. And they’re immortal. The remaining humans live entrenched in fortified areas armed with lots and lots of lights….which take lots and lots of electricity.

The story starts with a little six-year-old girl, Amy, with a hard-luck story. For reasons unclear, the men in black have identified her as a person who could be made to disappear and no one would go looking for her. The snatch-and-grab doesn’t go very well but that becomes moot quite soon. The little girl is the second stage of a longevity project, the previous subjects having been collected from various prison death-rows. The twelve previous subjects are now immortal, as planned. Turning them into vampires was a bit unexpected. As with these sorts of stories, everything goes to hell in a handbasket. The vampires all escape along with the girl and her FBI and nun protectors. The escape turns the virus loose on the North American continent and most of mankind is done for within weeks. We never find out what happened abroad but it’s a pretty sure bet the virus wasn’t contained. More for the next book, I’m sure. Amy eventually ends up on her own in a decimated America.

The story breaks and then continues with a small colony in the mountains of California; almost one hundred years after the outbreak. The colony was begun with a busload of refugee children and few adults so there’s some interesting cultural changes that added flavor to the story without really advancing the plot. The batteries are finally failing and the colony is under siege from a mental attack by one of the original vampires. And then Amy shows up. She looks about fourteen and has forgotten how to talk. The author throws in some of the same nonsense that worked so much better in “The Stand” with people having dark dreams that we find out are telegraphed by the vampire. And, again, everything goes to hell and Amy and a handful of people are on the run across an apocalyptic landscape.

Their goal, for no clearly discernible reason except it’s someplace to go, is to head for the installation in Colorado where it all began. There’s a beacon broadcasting; asking that Amy return, and this seems like a good idea to our wannabe hero. Along the way, they run into other groups of surviving humans with varying degrees of help and hindrance. Not too different from the journeys in “The Stand” but with less characters.

Conveniently, it is Amy who is destined to save the afflicted people who are now mostly mindless vampires, with the exception of the original twelve. And there are dire prophesies that the world can be saved through her. Nothing is really resolved and there will, very obviously, be another book. Probably just as thick.

The problem for me is that I adore these kind of apocalyptic journey stories no matter how derivative. The author did have some interesting twists on the whole vampire biology but he also used a lot of common lore. The characters were stereotypical as was much of the plot. Amy is painted as an enigma while I would have preferred to have been inside her viewpoint. I felt rather cheated that we never got to know the six-year-old Amy or anything she experienced over the next nine-plus decades. And we never got inside her head when she appeared later. So, while I devoured the book and, for the most part, enjoyed the ride, I can’t really recommend it. It is both amazing and disconcerting to me that the first seven pages were filled with glorious reviews. These people must not get out much. ~ Catherine Book

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