Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1535
Justin Cronin’s The Passage is primarily a post-apocalyptic vampire novel that explores themes of mortality, hope, faith, and the future. Cronin incorporates multiple genres in this novel, including horror, western, and especially thriller elements. Although the plot of The Passage spans centuries, it follows the story of a little girl named Amy and her attempts to save the world from an apocalyptic outbreak of vampires.
Professor Jonas Lear of Harvard University thinks that he has found the cure for dying. Deep in the jungles of Bolivia, Lear and his U.S. army–funded research group set out to find a cure, but instead all but a few die from a mysterious virus. However, the military is able to retrieve a sample of the virus. The experiments are code-named “Project Noah,” a reference to the Biblical Noah who is said to have lived over 900 years. Initial test subjects die soon after exposure, but scientists in a Colorado military facility refine the virus until they are ready to begin human testing.
Federal Agent Brad Wolgast’s job is to recruit death-row inmates to be human test subjects in exchange for life sentences. Wolgast is divorced and is a grieving parent, his daughter Eva having died in her infancy. Wolgast is a fantastic recruiter and has never been turned down. After successfully recruiting convicted murderer Anthony Carter to be a test subject, Wolgast receives his next assignment: pick up six-year-old Amy NLN (No Last Name) and bring her to Colorado for testing.
Amy’s full name is Amy Harper Bellafonte. Amy’s mother had turned to prostitution to provide and care for Amy. However, when a trick goes wrong, she murdered a frat boy to save herself from gang rape. Hoping to provide a better life for Amy, her mother left her in the care of Sister Lacey Antoinette Kudoto. Lacey is described as a mystical nun who survived gang rape and violence in Sierra Leone before coming to America. Lacey forms an immediate connection with Amy and even takes her out to a zoo, where she discovers that many of the animals have a mysterious bond with her charge.
Wolgast and his partner interrupt Lacey and Amy at the zoo, and they abduct Amy in front of a large crowd of people. To the public, it looks like a criminal kidnapping and the police set out to find Amy and her kidnappers. Although they are federal agents, technically carrying out the will of the American military, both Wolgast and his military handler, Richards, know that if word of their abduction were to leak, their operation would be jeopardized. During their run from the law, Wolgast, like Lacey, forms a strong bond with Amy and decides to try to save her from Project Noah. He turns himself in to a small-town deputy sheriff. However, Richards intercepts Wolgast, murders the sheriff, and takes Wolgast and Amy to Colorado via helicopter, where Amy is injected with the virus.
When Amy arrives, thirteen patients have been infected with the virus. Although each of the figures has seemingly become immortal, there are other side effects. As one guard reflects, they are basically vampires. These vampires glow and hang from the ceiling like bats, and some have telepathic powers. Armed with impervious skin and razor-sharp teeth, they feast on blood. Their only weakness is found just below the breastbone, where a gland lies that is required to control the virus. The vampires also seem to be affected by light. Of the thirteen vampires, the most powerful one is known as Zero.
Richards’ facility contains highly dangerous test subjects, and although it has state-of-he-art security, cracks have begun to show. Some guards are shirking their duties and many of the soldiers on duty have been having strange dreams. Even Sister Lacey shows up to save Amy. Shortly after Amy’s arrival, the vampires telepathically force a janitor to free them. After a brief firefight, the vampires escape the military facility. Lacey sacrifices herself so that Amy and Wolgast can escape and flee deep into the Rocky Mountains. Within a year, the vampires overrun the United States and presumably the rest of the American continents. During the battle for America, nuclear bombs are set off and Wolgast dies of radiation poisoning. The American army steadily flees east before the vampire outbreak. In the west, California secedes from the union and begins its own battle for survival.
The story resumes with an academic study of the First Colony. The academics live in the year “1003 A.V.” No further details of the academics are given. The First Colony is composed of human survivors ninety-two years after the vampire outbreak. Life has changed and many of the technologies of the 21st century have been forgotten. The soldiers of the colony, known as the Watch, arm themselves with crossbows. Now the vampires are known as “virals,” and the inhabitants of the First Colony believe that the virals have no soul. Although the virals still hunt human prey, the First Colony and its inhabitants survive behind very high walls and lights that run all night. Although the lights are powered by wind energy, they rely on scavenged batteries.
A stable society with its own laws and history has emerged in First Colony, but life remains precarious, especially now. For decades, the colonists have waited for the American army to return, a hope that seems increasingly fanciful. First Engineer Michael Fisher has recently discovered that the batteries are losing their ability to hold a charge, but he has kept this information to himself, fearing that his society is incapable of facing the truth. Worse, the dreams of some of the colony’s leaders have been infiltrated by a mysterious entity known as Babcock. Finally, Peter Jaxon and Alicia Blades of the Watch have begun to see unusual viral activity.
While on a scouting expedition to the colony’s turbine station, Peter and Alicia accidentally discover a nest of virals in an abandoned mall. They are separated in the fight that ensues. Alone, Peter discovers a little girl—Amy—who somehow saves him from certain death before leaving him alone again. He escapes the virals and returns to the colony. However, when Amy appears outside the colony’s walls a few nights later, Alicia breaks the law to save her. Alicia’s decision costs the colony several lives and the colonists descend into mob violence in their struggle to cope with the loss. Worse, more and more colonists find themselves acting inexplicably. They are dreaming of Babcock.
Before the colony disintegrates, Michael discovers a chip implanted in Amy’s neck. Michael studies the chip and discovers that Amy is nearly one hundred years old. What’s more, he receives a signal that someone in Colorado is calling for Amy’s return. As their colony slowly disintegrates behind them, Peter leaves the colony in the company of Amy, Alicia, watchmen Hollis and Maus, Michael and his sister Sara, and engineer Caleb.
Peter and his friends slowly uncover military bunkers and scavenge supplies, weapons, and even vehicles. Although they are able to cross the mountains, they get lost in Nevada and fall into a trap. Just as they are about to be overrun by virals, they find themselves rescued by a second society of human survivors who live in Haven.
Haven is ostensibly a paradise because no one there is afraid of the virals—and there is even a herd of cattle. However, Peter and his friends discover that the people of Haven live without having to defend themselves from the virals only because they serve Babcock, one of the original death-row inmates infected with the virus. In order for Haven to survive, people are sacrificed to Babcock once every lunar cycle. However, some of the inhabitants in Haven are planning to flee in an old train. They recruit Michael to help them fix the train. After a daring fight against Babcock, Peter and his gang escape by train. However, nearly all of the inhabitants of Haven are killed by Babcock’s virals, a collective known as the Many.
The gang next finds a surviving military, one that represents a colony of 30,000 human survivors. Alicia joins the military and the rest of Peter’s gang decides to join the human colony. Only Amy and Peter continue their journey to Colorado. They arrive at the old bunker and discover Sister Lacey, who was infected with the virus and who has waited decades for Amy to return. Lacey gives Peter documents outlining Project Noah, although she envisions the viral outbreak as a second version of the Biblical Flood. They do not have long to parley before Babcock and his many arrive. Amy and Peter escape and Lacey sets off a nuclear bomb, one that kills both her and Babcock. It turns out that all of the virals that were infected by Babcock and his followers die alongside him.
Peter and Amy reunite with their friends and return to First Colony. No one is there. They make their way to Roswell and the only human survivors that they know of. The story ends on a cliffhanger, suggesting that the virals will massacre the last human colony.
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