The hype machine is out in full force with this one. The question on everyone's mind is, is The Passage worthy of it?

In this case, I say Believe the Hype.

I do, however, have a caveat or two. But let's start at the beginning.

The first chapter of The Passage is one of the finest openings to a book I've ever read. I was immediately hooked. In fact, this emotionally-charged initial chapter would make a heartbreaking short story on its own.

The Passage moves on to tell one of the most compelling and frightening stories I've ever read. You've heard that this is a vampire apocalypse story, right? Well, it sort of is and it sort of isn't. This isn't merely another book like The Strain, which I adored. Cronin has bigger stakes in mind and his novel is much more ambitious than Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan have with The Strain Trilogy. Think epic. I'm talking like Tolkien or Swan Song.

The monsters in The Passage aren't vampires of the Judeo-Christian type. They're referred to as 'Virals' and were created by military scientists in an attempt to create a kind of super soldier. As usual in these matters, something goes terribly awry and humankind is nearly wiped from the planet. So far, so good.

Then at around page 250, I found the story dragging. It became a chore for me to continue. I hate to say it, because this book is so amazing, but I do feel that there are pacing problems in parts of it. If you're reading it and experiencing similar difficulties in proceeding, please, please, stick with it. Your patience will be amply rewarded.

Also, those hungering for merely an action-packed vampire thriller are going to be sorely disappointed. Cronin largely keeps the bloodshed in the background and focuses on the effects of the plague on his characters. Some readers may feel cheated and I almost did at a few points. But everything comes together in the end and I believe that few readers will be disappointed.

As is typical in such stories, a quest is made by the group of protagonists. It's a long, dirty, perilous journey that is made by people born long after the plague depleted humanity. They go in search of understanding what destroyed the world as it was once known and perhaps to locate the key to bring about an end to the Viral Plague that crippled it.

The quest theme might be a cliche, but Justin Cronin has lots of surprises in store for his readers. While some parts of The Passage are slow, all of the detail comes into play in the story. Before you know it you'll be finding time to read the book throughout the day and night. My own life took a backseat to The Passage for the last week and I suspect yours will as well.

Not yet published at the time of this writing, The Passage is already a literary phenomenon. Buzz is everywhere and lettered and limited editions from Cemetery Dance sold out in near record time. A movie is already in the works. You don't want to be the last one on board this wild ride. Do yourself a favor and buy the book right away. Then I recommend that you take a few vacation days from your job.

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