Review for The Passage & Breathless

My streak of running into books I love is now up to 4. After The Windup Girl and Year of the Flood last week, it’s The Passage and Breathless this week.

The Passage by Justin Cronin. At $13.99 it’s not even worth linking to – just get a used hardcover for $3 instead. On the other hand, it’s about twice the size of a normal book.

This is nearly as good as The Road, The Windup Girl, and Perdido Street Station. It’s a mix of post-apocalyptic survival, horror and twisted vampires. It’s also about hope and the journey of self-discovery.

It’s one of the rare vampire/zombie books that manages to avoid being a royal mess. There are one or two vampire references that will make you cringe but 99% of the book is solid. The vampires are amazing. There are parts where the author loses his sanity and tries to paint them as 5% human and spoil the fun – For the most part, he just lets them go about their evil and ruthless ways.

There were a lot of good things about the book -

  1. It’s long – you’re definitely not going to feel cheated after buying it. It is perhaps a bit too long – but that’s much better than being too short.
  2. The Passage in the title refers to something deeper that runs throughout the book – and not just the physical passage the protagonists make.
  3. Some of the main characters are great.
  4. It really is several books in one, and they are intertwined quite well.
  5. The journey at times is reminiscent of The Lords of The Rings (in a good way).
  6. It does pull you in – it’s hard not to get vested in the survival of everyone.
  7. It manages to reduce hope to a flicker and then bring it back to full burn surprisingly well, and several times. 
  8. It’s a story. There’s a lot of life in it and a lot of story-telling and even the author’s attempts to movie-material the story don’t affect it. It’s a rich story. 

There are also some obvious pain points -

  1. There are a few places where it becomes obvious you’re being set-up for a follow-on. It doesn’t help that the forthcoming two books in the Trilogy arrive in 2012 and 2014.
  2. There’s a little bit too much improbability. Not in the ‘wow this is so fantastic and wonderful and imaginative’ sense, but in the ‘the author ran out of logical ways to fill in the story’ sense.
  3. You do get the feeling a few times that the author was thinking about how good of a movie-scene a passage of the book would make. You almost wish his mother had sat him down and reminded him – In 50 years there will be 3D movies catering to all 5 senses and no one is going to care about the movies that were made in 2011. Your story, however, has the potential to be treasured for another 1,000 years.
  4. There are moments that are truly frustrating. This actually adds to the overall appeal of the book because the flawed parts better highlight the truly great parts. You almost suspect the author put in a few (not many, just a few) appallingly bad things in there to make the rest stand out.
  5. There are two very obvious editing mistakes in the ebook towards the end – the type that are very hard to miss.

Can’t go into more detail. Let’s just say that this book is almost at the level of the books mentioned above – at times it soars above them, at times it disappoints (but not for long).

If the remaining two books of the trilogy can keep the good parts of the first, and perhaps get rid of a few of the flaws, this trilogy has a chance at becoming a classic. The best vampire story since Dracula. It really does have that much potential – the story really is that good.

Breathless by Dean Koontz.

This is a very hard to categorize book. Haven’t read the other reviews but it wouldn’t be a surprise if this were a very hit or miss type of book with divided opinions.

Update: It seems a LOT of people hate the way the storylines are brought together. Interesting.

It’s 4 parallel stories with 2 of the smaller ones merging at the end. The main story meets up briefly, and rather awkwardly, with the last one. They are all good stories – each would make a decent novella and the characters certainly are interesting.

The main story is almost a fable. There’s a lot of ‘trust in the universe’ and ‘believe in your heart’ in the story and it’s done in a way that isn’t condescending. It’s interesting how Dean Koontz talks about Science – that in some ways science has forgotten that we don’t really know anything for sure. It would be easy to misinterpret what he’s saying but it isn’t meant in any obtuse way – just as a fact. That scientists today should be careful because what they hold in their hearts as true might just be today’s equivalent of the flat world theory.

There are a few things to like about the book -

  1. It’s very full of hope. I’d go so far as to say there’s a sense of wonder.
  2. It’s very open. It has a surprisingly quick ending but one that is digestible and open (not in the sense of ‘sequel open’ but in the sense that you can take the story where you want to take it).
  3. At least 2 of the 4 storylines are very good.
  4. Dean Koontz writes very well – You’ll be reading something and suddenly something will strike you and the truth of it will be evident and it’s puzzling how it’s just wrapped up in a normal story.
  5. Basically, it’s a book that’s very approachable and normal. Yet, at the same time, it has some pretty high level concepts.
  6. It’s not very deep and exceedingly deep at the same time. One person could read through and get nothing except the story and another could find something that’ll stun him.
  7. It has an Irish wolfhound in it. How can you not love a dog that is capable of hunting wolves.

In his Frankenstein series there was always a sense of ‘building up for the next book’ but with this book he’s managed to get rid of that while still keeping the good writing. It also has a demonstration of some pretty evolved writing skills – fitting in all these things that surprise you with their lucidity in the midst of a completely separate, different story. It doesn’t have the pace of the Frankenstein books (or rather the sense of pace).

It’s not recommended to read this book if -

  1. You went to Harvard.
  2. You are in love with Costume National.
  3. You hate any mention of hope or positiveness. This book is practically drowning in it.
  4. You think evolution is a universal truth and think there is no other possibility (scientific, random, or spiritual).
  5. You like a writer to demonstrate his knowledge of elaborate words as opposed to his storytelling abilities.
  6. Update: From reviews it seems you might not like it very much if you’re expecting to find a lot of horror in it or a nice, relaxed merging together of the storylines or a long, exciting rollercoaster ride at the end.

It’s a really good book in the sense that it’ll almost certainly make you happy to read it – provided you don’t fall into the above 6 categories.

The best words to describe this book would be Different and Divisive and Potentially Delightful. It really struck a chord with me because of the parts that are easy to miss but really stand out. A lot of people seem to hate the fact that it didn’t give them their usual Dean Koontz horror/thriller rush.

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