Book Club In Session: The Passage by Justin Cronin

thepassage.jpg Lauren:  I know I know, I chose another vampire book…  Well shush, I know what I like!

After hearing nothing but great reviews for Justin Cronin’s The Passage, and a quick reminder of my desire to crack this book open after seeing that the sequel had been released at the end of last year, there really was no reason to put it off any longer.  It starts off with the story of a girl and her mother, but before long the scope of the story expands immensely, creating an intense world from start to finish spawned from man’s desire to live forever, a quest which unfortunately gets turned around somehow and ends up with more screaming and death than immortality.

[Since Book Club is all about discussion, know now there will be spoilers throughout!]

Heather:  I thought the book started off really strong, but then towards the middle started losing its momentum.  It caught its second wind later on, but then slowed down quite a bit again.  The little girl, Amy, is my favorite character, so I guess I was hoping she would have played more of a “star” role throughout the entirety.  I really loved the relationship between her and agent Wolgast, so it is no surprise that the beginning of the novel (which focuses on just that) is my favorite, I suppose.  Despite the multiple character additions and changes in scenery, I couldn’t put it down, and finished this beast in less than a week – which says a lot in itself.

Lauren:  I was actually pretty shocked with how quickly you finished this one considering I had so much trouble with it.  The story is really interesting so I can’t blame that for what kept me from getting addicted to turning pages, so I look towards the structure of the writing itself for blame.  In the early chapters, even with some of my favorite moments included (I was a major fan of Wolgast and Amy as well), the chapters went on for days, with paragraphs spreading over numerous pages.  Seriously, one paragraph spanned 2.5 pages.  This is a stupid thing to complain about, but visually it makes the book look like it drags on, keeping me from feeling like: “Oh, i’m sure I can sneak in at least one more chapter before bed.”  Instead I was more than fine with setting it down.

Another challenge was that there were so many characters early on that I didn’t necessarily care the most for as we waited for how exactly all these characters would affect the story.  It all finally came to a head when the vampires (we’re just going to go ahead and call them this) made their telepathic play to get out of captivity and Amy and Wolgast were forced to go into hiding in the mountains, but before you know it this storyline is over and the book has jumped ahead in time, throwing a new location, culture, and characters at us.  I just finally started caring about the story and that’s all gone now!?  Oh heck no!

Heather:  No critiquing how long the paragraphs look on the page!  Maybe I just say this from a self-preservationist perspective because I know my own paragraphs can get pretty lengthy when writing, but that’s neither here nor there.

Anyway, I was deeply disturbed that Amy just disappeared into the night leaving poor Wolgast to die alone in the woods.  I mean really, she couldn’t have waited around another day for her faithful caretaker to succomb to his radiation poisoning/infected wounds?  I suppose that Wolgast was the one that kidnapped Amy (from nuns no less) to take her to the super secret testing facility where the crazy doctor almost killed her with his experiments… but still.

Lauren:  Wolgast did tell her to leave him because the vampires were coming and there was nothing he could do to protect her, and she wasn’t privy to the full potential of her skill set yet in concern to her ability to understand the vampires, thus not realizing that they weren’t going to hurt her…  But still, Wolgast going out the way he did is still the saddest moment of the book for me.  If he was real, I would hug him so hard!

Amy isn’t the only one to bring about abandonment issues in the ones that care for her though, as Alicia adds herself to the evil lady list when she reveals this random, hidden past in which she was trained to join the army once they finally find them.  I am against hitting a child so Amy was safe from my physical rage (that and being a fictional character), but I could have hit Allicia so hard in the throat for what she did to Peter.  They were made for each other!  And this was just shortly after his brother left him again to.  Have a heart, Alicia.

Speaking of his brother, what did you think of the sidestory that continued on with Theo and Maus?

Heather:  Ha, I was going to bring up Alicia leaving Peter.  But I was never really invested in their love story anyway.  Alicia never seemed like the type to be tied down, and I felt a little bit sorry for Sara and all the unrequited love she had for Peter.  She was more deserving of his affections if you ask me.

As for Theo and Maus, I would be terrified to settle down in some random farmhouse in the middle of nowhere to wait out the rest of my pregnancy.  I understand why they did it – you can’t very well have a baby on the road – I bet the vampires would come swarming once the smell of fresh blood and placenta hit their noses (eww), not to mention the physical exertion required to travel probably wouldn’t be very easy carrying around a growing baby in your abdomen.  And for a while it seemed like Theo and Maus were going to make it out unscathed (with only one vampire ever breaching their land/ attempting to kill them).  Unfortunately, I think that staying behind, trying to keep themselves safe, was probably all for naught.  Afterall, the book ends with Theo, Maus, their baby, Sara, and Hollis all going to Roswell to stay at the army base there.  Then, Sara’s diary entries suddenly end when in the middle of the night the base is attacked.  I can only assume the worst happened to them, but of course I can’t be positive.  Hopefully at least a few of them survived the attack.  I guess that will be answered soon enough in the next book though.  Do you have any insights into what happened?

Lauren:  This is how I calmed myself down off the ledge when I saw that Sara’s journal was found at the site of the Roswell Massacre: after all that they’ve been through, it’s only natural that someone is going to die, especially considering that Theo keeps on getting second, third, and eighteenth chances, but that baby just came into the world.  It signifies hope in the future, which is stupid thing to base this on, but true.  So if he dies, then Justin Cronin is an evil man.  Especially since he just murdered their dog!  A dog is one thing, but a baby and a dog!?  So someone has to survive to take care of that baby.  My guess is that if anyone goes, it’s going to be Hollis or Maus.  They don’t have the connections to the other group like Theo and Sara do, and it’s always sad when one member of a couple has to carry on after the person they love is lost, especially so soon after finding each other.  So as sad as it is, they are the most expendable.

Another thing to note about this is that her journal is being read at The Third Global Conference on the North American Quarantine Period, which is at the University of New South Wales in the Indo-Australian Republic.  This is the name of a real university in Australia, which means that there are still people out there away from this continent who have made it through this apocalypse, though Indo-Australian Republic suggests that they haven’t gone unscathed.

This ending makes me glad that the second of the three books is already out there to deliver answers to what happened here, but honestly I question the other group’s ending more.  I am sure you were just as excited as I was that Wolgast came back in the end to be with Amy, but what exactly happened?  Did he greet the sun while they were hugging, disintegrating like all the other vampires she has helped?  Or did he just disappear into the night?  The writing was too vague for me here.

Heather:  Good point about the diary being presented in Austrailia.  At least we know that the human race survives the onslaught of the vampires, even if most of the characters in this book are killed along the way.  It will be interesting to see if in the next book the characters travel from the U.S. to some other content.  I kind of feel like they probably won’t, and the conference in Australia is just a way to present the information from Sara’s diary, as well as let us know that humanity survives.  More likely, the characters will travel to various parts of the U.S. in an effort to find and kill the remainder of the original 12.

In terms of Wolgast meeting Amy at the end, I just assumed that he had been turned into a vampire all that time before when Amy left him, and had sort of been following her ever since.  But somehow in the end she helped him remember who he was, and in doing so set his soul free so to speak.  I actually don’t really remember that part very well (in fact I had forgotten it happened at all until you mentioned it here), so I can’t be sure what really happened to him.  I supposed the logical thing was really that the sun scorched him.  Either way, he is really gone for good this time.

More surprising perhaps than Wolgast’s brief reunion was the return of the nun Lacey who cared for Amy in the beginning of the book after Amy’s prostitute mother basically dropped her off with no more than a note, a backpack, a stuffed rabbit, and a box of fruit bars at the convent.  We always knew the nun was a little bit special, seeing as she witnessed her whole family being murdered in a cornfield (or something like that), but I never expected her to turn up some 100 years after first meeting Amy.

Why do you think Amy and Lacey didn’t turn into evil, bloodthirsty creatures after being infected with the virus, while the original twelve death-row inmates all turned into vamps?  Is it because the originals were all criminals to begin with, and more inclined towards violence?  Or was it because Amy and the Nun received the final version of the virus, while with the rest the scientist was still trying to get the formula exactly right?  I’d like to think it was because there was something pure about Amy that was lacking the the other twelve, but then there was the one guy on death row, Carter, who was actually innocent of his crime, so why shouldn’t he be more like Amy than the rest of the vampires?

Lauren: I definitely wasn’t expected Lacey, either, considering her apparent end.  I will say I was hoping that Wolgast somehow made it (as opposed to becoming a vampire) since they were traveling back in that direction and Amy was going on about snow angels, but Lacey makes as much sense I guess.  Especially since I was wondering what ever happened to the doctor/scientist that started this all, and Lacey clued us in to the rest of his story, making sure to keep him human and not some evil mastermind who brought about the downfall of America (though he never did come off this way based on his intro).

Lacey’s second sacrificial ending was just as amazing as the first, if not more so since Babcock had that coming, and I am excited to see them continue to take down more of the hive leaders.  It should be interesting to see how those vampires act since Babcock had this whole fat lady nightmare hold on people, and if I remember correctly I feel like someone mentioned Carter seeming almost sorry for what he was doing, though that wasn’t enough to stop him from feeding.  This could speak to what you were saying about his innocence, but unfortunately that wasn’t enough to overcome his new nature.  I’m leaning towards the virus evolving into less of an uncontrollable killing machine creator and more of a super soldier serum.  Then again, I do really like the idea of who they were before affecting what they become.

I just know that I am sad that not everyone got to turn into exponentially more BA Buffy the Vampire Slayers.  They would have been a force to be reckoned with, for sure, though it would have been cheating considering Alicia was able to sneak up on some vampires without them even acknowledging her as a threat.

Heather:  Yeah.  Buffy could have taken the whole nation of vampires down in one fell swoop.  Too bad.  My next question then, is what really was Amy?  She wasn’t a vampire because she didn’t drink blood, or did she?  And although she lived longer than everyone else, I’m not sure she was immortal either.  If she was immortal, then shouldn’t she have stayed like her six year old self forever, instead of growing into a teenage girl (at a drastically slower rate, mind you)?  Maybe she was like the Cesar Milan of vampires, like the vampire whisperer!

Lauren: No, Amy definitely had no draw to blood, instead going for the expired cans lying around the wasteland.  If you remember in the beginning the whole goal was to do something to an organ inside the human body that would help make humans more than ever thought possible, so I guess with Amy he finally got his wish.  So she wasn’t immortal, but something changed the rate at which she aged, and understanding that is far above my intelligence.  But that doesn’t explain what she was before she was changed because she was already freaking out zoo animals long before she was kidnapped.  I guess this was just the character trait that allowed for the vampire whispering, like: “hey, she can do this because of what she did that one time, remember?”  But I want an explanation for the zoo incident, because she wasn’t holding a Coca-Cola when she freaked those polar bears out!

I’m okay with not having an answer to this, but I definitely hope we find out what happened to all the colonists who disappeared.  How’s that for a segue!?

Heather: Yeah, I’d like to know that too.  Once again, here’s to hoping the second book answers some of these questions!

Lauren and Heather’s Final Grade: 4 out of 5 stars.

If you’d like to follow along with our book club, the next book we will be reading is Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.

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