Orion £20

The Passage, By Justin Cronin

Is this vampy doorstopper really one for the ages?

If the publicity machine has done its job (and it probably has; they invariably do), you might have seen or heard a thing or two about Justin Cronin's The Passage by now. Of the many claims made on behalf of this epic, enormous, literary vampire novel – "$3.75m book deal", "the publishing event of the year", "film rights bidding wars", Stateside reviews "unanimous in their praise" – some are even true. But before you sink your teeth into this 780-page-plus beast, there are one or two things you ought to know. The first is that, though this is a long book that sometimes feels longer, it is merely the first part of a planned trilogy. The second is that The Passage is not one book at all, but a trilogy in and of itself.

So all but the most dedicated vampire lovers will need superhuman levels of stamina. But will those without eternal life be rewarded? Without giving too much away, book one uncurls a premise that lives up to the hype; its first line alone, enough to give you the shivers: "Before she became The Girl From Nowhere – The One Who Walked In, The First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years – she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy."

Amy Harper Bellafonte is the only daughter of a young woman whose life has turned her to prostitution. When Amy is six, a trick turns sour, Amy's mum kills him and, on the run from the law, she places Amy in the care of some nearby nuns. Meanwhile, FBI agent Brad Wolgast is rounding up death-row inmates, the archetypal men with nothing to lose, to take part in a secret military experiment involving a virus that transforms those it infects but promises eternal life.

What sets The Passage apart at this stage is the fact that Cronin – until now a writer of literary novels – gives his entire cast 360-degree personalities. We feel for Anthony Carter, the latest death-row "volunteer", because we know so much of his back story. Ditto, the nun looking after Amy, Sister Lacey. Inevitably, Wolgast and Amy's paths cross, the secret experiments go horribly wrong and book one ends with nothing less than the end of the world. Only hold on. Because we're only 250 pages in, and things are about to take a turn for the post-apocalyptic.

Book two, which owes rather too much to Stephen King's The Stand, begins roughly 100 year later. We are in the First Colony, which has formed in the Last City. There are Capital Letters everywhere. At this point, The Passage, un-public-transport-friendly at the best of times, becomes as hard to pick up as it has previously been to put down. Plough on, and you will be introduced to an entirely new cast of characters, some of whom – Peter, Michael, Alicia – you may even care about.

The internal politics of the colony are tiresome, their endless battle against the "virals" now stalking the world outside repetitive, and their love lives and criss-crossing relationships, as fully fleshed and well written as they are, merely another padding device to build the tension. Things only really pick up when Amy returns.

When all's said and done, The Passage is a wonderful idea for a book that – like too many American TV series – knows how good it is and therefore outstays its welcome. There are enough human themes (hope, love, survival, friendship, the power of dreams) to raise it well above the average horror, but its internal battle between the literary and the schlock will, I suspect, leave most readers ultimately disappointed.

My own favourite thing about The Passage is the way it came to be written. While out walking one day in 2005, Cronin's then eight-year-old daughter Iris, a voracious reader, told her dad his books were boring. "What do you want me to write about?" he asked her. "A book about a girl who saves the world... And vampires." So there will be at least one fully satisfied reader for The Passage, then. The rest of us may do better to wait for the film.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935