In between gripping action scenes (I gasped aloud many times), Cronin writes beautifully about sadness and being alone — two of the book's central themes.

"Oh, she could feel them, feel them all," he writes from Amy's point of view. "She could stretch out her hand and stroke the darkness and feel them in it, everywhere. Their sorrowful forgetting. Their great and terrible brokenheartedness. Their endless needful questioning. It moved her to a sorrow that was a kind of love. Like the love she'd felt for the Man, who in his care for her had told her to run and keep on running."

Especially toward the beginning of the book, there are chapter-long digressions that offer background about characters who may not show up again for hundreds of pages (if ever). Cronin's prose is so well-executed that these detours rarely feel unwieldy or distracted. Rather, they help create a vivid world that we recognize as very like our own — and then so dissimilar.

And like any good vampire tale, The Passage offers its own commentary on modern monsters, and the lengths that we'll go to have something to be scared of: "He had no idea what to make of any of it, but that was the way of most things from the Time Before. How did people live? What did they eat, wear, think? Did they walk in the dark, as if this were nothing? If there were no virals, what made them afraid?"

Something to think about while you're enjoying the summer sun (and getting better biceps just from propping up this book): What would you want future survivors to think you were afraid of?

Deirdre Fulton can be reached at dfulton@phx.com.

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