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Literature / The Passage

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"What strange places our lives can carry us to, what dark passages."

A 2010 horror/post-apocalyptic novel by Justin Cronin, the first of a trilogy. The Twelve came out in October 2012, and The City of Mirrors was released in May 2016.

The novel concerns a secret government experiment with a virus that makes vampires. So far, there have been thirteen subjects: the Twelve, inmates on death row convinced to join the program in exchange for not dying, and Zero, one of the scientists that discovered the virus.

Brad Wolgast is an FBI agent assigned to finding and convincing the death row inmates to join the program - until the last subject he needed to find was Amy Harper Bellafonte, a six year old girl.

Wolgast has no choice. He has to turn her over, but as soon as he does something catastrophic happens. The Twelve escape. The virus gets loose.

Though that story is an epic in itself, it is merely the introduction to a larger conflict set decades later, following a young man named Peter Jaxon trying to make sense of himself and the world Wolgast wrought. Disaster befalls his settlement, prompting a journey that takes him across the former North American continent, searching for the truth behind the virus.

A film adaptation of the novel will be directed by Matt Reeves, who previously directed Let Me In and Cloverfield. In January 2019 a TV adaptation began airing on FOX.

The sequel, titled The Twelve, continues Jaxon's story five years later with flashbacks to the time of the viral outbreak covering the story behind Wolgast's ex-wife Lila and the forebears of important characters in Jaxon's time. The threat of the viral progenitors, twelve death-row inmates and one scientist who underwent experimental treatments, looms larger and Peter Jaxon and Amy race to find a true solution to the world-ravaging virus.

Not to be confused with the 1979 film The Passage, which is an adaptation of the book Perilous Passage. It is also unrelated to the 2002 Connie Willis novel Passage, or to the 2007 freeware game Passage

Tropes present in these novels:

  • 0% Approval Rating: Despite the propaganda spread throughout the Homeland, nobody likes 'Director' Horace Guilder but most are too scared and beaten down to do anything about it. Even his own allies gradually begin to fear and dislike him.
  • Abandoned Laboratory: After the outbreak, the Colorado facility becomes this. Except it isn't fully abandoned: Lacey resides there.
  • Abusive Parents: More than a few characters have them.
    • Babcock's mother put out cigarettes on him, hurt him physically and taunted him verbally; her abuse ultimately drove him to kill her.
    • Lawrence Grey endured a series of sexually abusive stepfathers and 'uncles'.
    • Tifty Lamont was beaten by his drunken father to the point where bones were broken.
    • Horace Guilder's father was emotionally distant and unloving.
  • Accidental Murder: Amy's mother kills a frat boy by accident when he tries to force her into his frat house for a gang-rape.
  • Achilles' Heel: The virals' only weak spot is right above their breastbone. A knife or bullet anywhere else will just inconvenience them.
  • Action Girl: Alicia Donadio is the most prevalent due to her status as a One Woman Army, but Lore DeVeer is no pushover and Nina is the second-in-command to the Insurgency. Sara becomes an Action Survivor and even Amy gets in on the act.
  • Action Survivor: If someone isn't instantly killed, they're pretty much forced to become this to survive.
  • After the End: The first part ("The Worst Dream of the World") takes place Just Before the End, but after that the majority of the book is spent after the fall of America (and likely, the rest of the world).
  • All Deaths Final: Everyone killed by a Viral is most definitely dead, and there is no cure to becoming a Viral.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: A recurring theme seems to be the pain of unrequited love.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Red-Eyes have all become insane, sadistic and detached from human feelings after so long under the influence of Grey's blood.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Just about everyone in the Colony, due to the mixing of the races over so many years. Very few people are completely one ethnicity anymore.
  • Anachronic Order: The second book jumps back in time for a good few chapters before leaping forward, and many of the Apocalyptic Log excerpts come from an unspecified time.
  • And I Must Scream: Grey is subjected to this.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: Due to the Virals infecting others with ease.
  • Anyone Can Die: So far, Cole, Paulson, Sykes, Richards, Doyle, Lear, the Colonel, Arlo, Elton, Mira, Billie, Gus, Caleb, Jude, Vorhees, Babcock, Kittridge, Nelson, Satch Dodd, Ceps, Wilkes, Guilder, Tifty, Wolgast, Martinez and all of the Twelve save for Carter and Zero.
  • Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: The Twelve don't fight or hurt each other. Possibly subverted by Zero, who appears to have manipulated his brothers to die.
  • Apocalyptic Log: A few, in the form of Auntie's books, newspaper clippings, and Dr Jonas Lear's e-mail correspondence. For some parts of the book After the End, the POV switches to a diary Sara Fisher is keeping.
  • Apocalypse How: Either a Class 0 or a Class 1. Class 0 if the quarantine was successful, Class 1 if the virus escaped the North American continent. Largely left ambiguous.
    • Confirmed as Class 1 in The City of Mirrors
  • Arc Words: There are a few recurring sayings.
    "I am Babcock, One of Twelve."
    "I was called Fanning."
    "They always go home."
    "Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?"
    "Come to me. Come to me. Come to me."
  • Armies Are Evil: Played both ways. The army personnel at the Colorado Compound are a mix of sociopathic monsters and jaded suicidal types, but the Army of the Republic of Texas are mostly reasonable nice guys. There are also many examples of soldiers disobeying orders because they have a moral objection, such as those ordered to bomb civilian sites to stop the virus spreading.
  • The Atoner: Several characters are atoning for their past sins, most notably Wolgast, Grey and Carter.
  • Awful Truth: The First Colony has a couple of these. They forbid on pain of exile (death) telling children of the hellish reality until they are 8 years old; until then they're raised in a cloistered school with no view of the outside. Ironically, the more critical fact that the batteries that run the vampire-repelling lights are failing and cannot be repaired or replaced is withheld from the Colony at large by Michael. He reasons that with no options, informing now would only destroy the relative happiness they have left.
  • Badass and Child Duo: Amy and Wolgast, later Amy and Peter.
  • Because Destiny Says So: A reason for many of the more jarring plot developments.
  • Beneath the Earth: Where many Virals like to sleep during the day, packed into underground caves.
  • Big Bad: Overall, Tim Fanning AKA Subject Zero, but there's a seperate Big Bad for The Passage and The Twelve; Giles Babcock and Horace Guilder.
  • Body Horror: The Virals, and Ignacio.
  • Ceiling Cling: A favoured method of the Virals.
  • Character Development: Quite a few examples, although characters don't always change for the better.
    • Theo Jaxon is bitter, jaded and completely disillusioned with life. He later finds more purpose with the revelation of the world outside the Colony and his new life with Mausami.
    • Anthony Carter is a passive man of low intelligence who just lets people walk all over him but he gradually becomes a self-sacrificing and noble man at odds with his own nature.
    • Horace Guilder was a lonely but well-intentioned man who slowly turns into a monster.
    • Amy is just a little girl who's shy and near-mute, but ultimately takes a stronger leadership role and forms strong bonds with the Colony Apostles.
    • Sykes begins as a Well-Intentioned Extremist but becomes disillusioned and self-loathing as Project Noah progresses.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them
  • Classical Movie Vampire: The characters sort of poke fun at this when they join in when the Army soldiers have a viewing of the Bela Lugosi Dracula.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: If Project NOAH had been conducting remotely thorough and ethical science with professional staff who might report problems, they probably learn what the virals are capable of early enough to stop it. Scratch military forces can defeat virals a hundred years later. A full military approaching the outbreak as an intelligent enemy would likely have succeeded. If the experiment continued that long in the first place.
  • Creepy Child: Amy, for a short while.
  • Creepy Long Fingers: The Virals' fingers grow and extend into long, thin claws.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Many characters end up being ripped apart by Virals.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Mausami's baby is named after Caleb.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The book has numerous POV characters, but the ones who gain initial focus are Brad Wolgast and Lacey the nun in The Passage, and Lawrence Grey and Lila in The Twelve. All of them are major supporting characters, but Peter Jaxon and Amy are the ones who the story revolve around and have the most significant page-time. Interestingly, in both books, Peter is the last character to be introduced, but arguably the main protagonist.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Several characters, most notably Michael, Lore, Nelson and Richards.
  • Death of a Child
  • Divided States of America: During the initial cataclysm, both California and Texas break off from the Union, causing minor civil wars. The latter survives so well that 100 years later it is beginning to perform sweep-and-clear operations.
  • Doomed Hometown: The Colony where Peter was born.
  • Doorstopper
  • Driven to Suicide / Psychic-Assisted Suicide: How Babcock wipes out so much of the Colony.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Theo and Mausami are killed off-page between the events of The Passage and The Twelve, despite being certified badasses in The Passage.
  • Dwindling Party: The First Colony. Both in general from trying to hold off high cancer and vampire death rates with the population of a tiny town, and on-screen during its section of the story.
  • Dying as Yourself: Many characters adopt this attitude in the event they're infected, such as Corporal Muncey.
  • Emergency Transformation: Alicia and later, Amy.
  • The Epic: A huge amount of viewpoint characters cover the story from all sides across decades and spanning the entire continent.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: When Lacey first meets Peter, she thought he'd be taller.
  • Evil Former Friend: Richards and Skykes discuss this in relation to Fanning and Lear.
  • Evil is Petty: Many of the Homeland characters.
  • Fighting from the Inside: When Theo is imprisoned at Haven he does his best to resist Babcock's dream.
  • Friendly Neighborhood Vampires: Lacey, Alicia, Carter and Wolgast.
  • From Bad to Worse: The US of 2018 is already a World Half Empty due to a terrorist massacre in the Mall of America and the reaction to it, showing definite fascist tendencies. Then the virus hits.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Who'd have thought that giving convicted murderers superhuman powers would be a bad idea?
    • Lampshaded in The Twelve when Guilder is questioned by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Sister Lacey sets off a small nuclear bomb to kill Babcock and herself. Grey and Lila later do something similar to stop Guilder, while at the same time Wolgast suicide-bombs the Master Virals.
  • Hive Mind: Each of the Twelve controls all the vampires he created or that those vampires created.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: A fascistic US government "recruits" largely insane, always violent murderers as "no one will miss them" test subjects for a biological terror weapon, licensing the murder of anyone inconvenient in the process. However these disposable test subjects are being given a "virus" that causes superhuman transformation and imparts an extreme bloodlust, and this stacks on remnants of those personalities. This goes badly.
  • The Horde: It's rare to see a lone Viral, and they usually travel in packs of three but there are plenty of terrifying examples of thousands of Virals getting together for an unstoppable attack.
  • Horror Hunger: What guides and curses the Virals.
  • Hospital Hottie: Sara Fisher.
  • How We Got Here: Chapter 19 starts with Peter on the wall and then jumps back in time for several chapters.
  • Icon of Rebellion: SERGIO LIVES.
  • It Can Think: The virus does not in fact render its subjects catatonic, mindless animals as is believed at Project NOAH. They're telepathic and capable of large scale organization, and can directly communicate with humans via visions and dreams. Some virals can suppress their kill drive enough for their base personality to come through. Unfortunately, Zero and 11 of the 12 adult test subjects are sociopaths and/or criminally insane and have a Hive Mind with their infectees. This is understood much too late as heavily defended perimeters fall to organized virals.
  • Immune to Bullets: Played with. The Master Virals are very heavily protected by their skin, with an RPG being a reasonable weapon including one that apparently hits and hurts but does not kill Babcock and them being far too fast to hit with an RPG most of the time. Lesser virals have acquired this reputation after a century, but it's partially a legend from a lack of firearms and that the army failed. Sharp shooting the same weak spots you'd aim a crossbow proves effective, as do heavy machine guns.
  • Just Think of the Potential!: Project Noah was built on this idea. Only in retrospect does anyone realize just how horribly doomed the project was to begin with.
  • Kill It with Fire: A method of destroying Virals.
  • Long-Lived: In the beginning of the book, Amy is six years old. Almost a hundred years later, they characters say that she looks fourteen. The first lines of the book call her "The Girl who Lived A Thousand Years."
  • Meaningful Name: Jude (Judas) of the Haven colony works to provide the viral Babcock four cows and two fellow humans to be eaten each month, effectively betraying the human race to ensure his own survival.
  • Mn Of Sherwood:
    • The Watch defends the First Colony from vampires and, while it is a Dwindling Party, the minor members are almost all skilled and developed characters who kill vampires with and without the main cast's help, help prevent Torches and Pitchforks mobs, and only keep dying because of the dissent Babcock is sowing within the community with his psychic powers.
    • The Army of Texas is the only survivor faction that is gaining ground against the virals instead of losing it, the heroes only encounter them late in the story, and they have a higher survival rate than The Watch.
  • Mercy Kill: Many prefer to be killed than change into Virals.
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family: The Virals have mouths filled with needle-like teeth. The Twelve seem to lose their teeth and grow more with some frequency.
  • Mysterious Protector: Theo and Maus seem to have a protector whose identity is as yet unclear.
  • Nonhumans Lack Attributes: Part of the transformation to Viral causes the genitals to...'smooth out' or otherwise become useless. This even happens to Guilder and the Red Eyes.
  • More than Mind Control: Fanning and Babcock's long and subtle process of influencing the minds of humans, involving showing the victims their own memories.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: It's mentioned that Jenna Bush is Governor of Texas.
  • Not Quite Dead: Various characters who seem to be dead later turn up alive, such as Jude, Theo and Sara.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: Played with. In the beginning, "vampire" is used to deride the project with the virus. After the virus is let loose, people come up with various names for them - virals, smokes, jumpers - but they all admit that they are vampires.
    • The point is underlined when, in the future, most viral hunters and soldiers refer to Dracula as an excellent introduction to the basics of defense against jumpers because the weaknesses detailed happen to be surprisingly accurate. Presumably, in the universe of the books, the story of Dracula was influenced by ancient reports of infected virals.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: They have a mental link with each other and with the Twelve. Each of the Twelve may control a large portion of the vampires they created - Babcock controlled the Many and when he died, Amy helped them to die too. They are very tough due to the virus changing their skin into a "protein-based exoskeleton" that is stronger than Kevlar.
  • Police State: The 'present-day' USA has adopted increasingly fascist, Big Brother policies.
  • Posthumous Character: Mark Cole, who only appears in email correspondence and flashbacks.
  • Public Execution: Guilder has a fondness for doing this to his enemies. Amy uses this to her advantage.
  • Putting on the Reich: The Homeland is a dictatorship heavy with propaganda straight out of Nazi Germany.
  • The Quisling: The Haven and the Homeland are filled with both.
  • Rapid Aging: How Guilder and the rest of the Homeland's Red Eyes die following the death of Lawrence Grey, the "source" of their immortality.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Every character who's taken some of the virus.
  • Reluctant Mad Scientist: Dr. Jonas Lear, who wanted to solve the mystery of death. He quickly becomes disillusioned and broken.
  • Scavenger World: Everything has pretty much just been left to rot. Vorhees even has a theory that other countries probably tried to take advantage of America's collapse to get their hands on gold deposits and valuable nuclear weapons. Chances are, they brought the Virus back to their countries with them.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The Twelve Virals, at first.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Theo and Mausami name their child Caleb.
  • Spider-Sense: The Twelve can sense each other. Babcock also seems a little concerned when he begins to sense Amy coming.
  • Stepford Smiler: There's certainly something 'off' about the residents of Haven.
  • Superhuman Trafficking: The U.S. government experiments on human test subjects and plans to use the result as a weapon against its enemies.
  • Suspiciously Stealthy Predator: For every one Viral you see, there are usually two you don't.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Jude, who gets shot in the face, survives and then gets two clips emptied into him before finally expiring.
    • The failsafe for the Project NOAH lab was intended to be a half-kiloton suitcase nuke. Lacey ultimately uses this against hulking Master Viral Babcock, erasing them both from existence instantly.
  • Time Skip: The narrative of both books begins 20 Minutes into the Future, before skipping forward nearly a hundred years. There's also a time skip of a few years between the books.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Many characters have to. The ones that don't, die. Special mention to Michael, who goes from a skinny, pale tech guy to a tanned, muscular, sex-havin' 'oiler' and Genius Bruiser.
  • Torture Technician: The Homeland's very own Sod is a nasty piece of work.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The Haven. Later, Voorhees recalls a similar settlement.
  • Tracking Chip: Amy, the Twelve Virals, and the sweeps have these.
  • Traintop Battle: Most of it takes place in the train, but there are still some segments on top.
  • Tragic Monster: The Virals themselves are very tragic; they're not mindless beasts, but more scared animals who just happen to be hungry all the time.
  • True Companions: The First Colony Apostles.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The book begins in 2018.
  • Unusual Euphemism: 'Took the trip' for suicide, and 'taken up' for infected.
  • Vampire Apocalypse: We see part of it during "The Year of Zero" and during Auntie's journals.
  • Vegetarian Vampire: Amy and later Lacey and Alicia are infected with the "final" stage of the virus, which means they have no bloodlust.
  • Vertical Kidnapping: The Virals under Babcock's control tend to do this.
  • The Virus: A literal virus, too.
  • Used Future: Comes with the post-apocalyptic world the characters live in.
  • Weakened by the Light: Most vampires can't stand sunlight, though some can tolerate it (both Amy and Alicia later can travel during the day).
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Many of the characters involved with Project Noah, such as Lear and Sykes. Lear is still grieving for his dead wife and wants to stop death and Sykes wants to improve the military to protect his country. They both gradually realize they're being used by the higher-ups for more sinister purposes and there won't be a happy ending.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Peter and Alicia, Hollis and Sara who do.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: There's several in such a bleak setting with superpower-granting viruses spilling here and there.
    • Lawrence Grey is a paedophile who gains incredible powers and ends up indirectly allowing the Homeland to exist by keeping Guilder alive. He was also mercilessly abused by a variety of father figures after his real father killed himself. Grey found the body. He's also kept a prisoner for almost 100 years, immobile and frequently humiliated.
    • Horace Guilder, the Big Bad of The Twelve, had an emotionally abusive father and was loved by nobody, while slowly dying of Lou Gehrig's Disease.
    • Giles Babcock, the Viral who kills millions was horribly abused by his mother and sentenced to death despite clearly being too insane to be deemed responsible for his own actions.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Guilder and the Virals. The Virals at least have an excuse, due to their Horror Hunger and the fact that most of them are mindless beasts. Guilder and his men are just murderous bastards.
  • A World Half Full: Due to the whole vampire virus thing that went on for a bit.
  • You Are in Command Now: Greer is promoted following the death of his commanding officer Vorhees in the field.
  • You Have Failed Me: Guilder tends to do this to his subordinates.
  • Zerg Rush: How the Virals tend to attack, particularly during the initial outbreak.