The City of Mirrors
by Justin Cronin
Published by Ballantine Books in May 2016
The City of Mirrors is the final book in a Pre-, During-, and Post-apocalyptic trilogy by Justin Cronin that began with 2010’s The Passage and continued in 2012’s The Twelve. The Passage Trilogy takes Post-Apocalyptic and Vampire tropes every horror fan knows and creates a saga infused with its own voice and storytelling style. Even better, this series creates one of the most endearing heroines of modern horror and matches her with one of the best adoptive dads I’ve ever met in all of fiction.
Our particular big bads in The Passage Trilogy? Humanity itself, spawned by (say it with me) an overzealous (mad) scientist working with a (of course) nefarious military super soldier program. From a single Patient Zero, twelve convicts are then infected. The only hope for the remaining human population of Earth is the youngest unwilling “participant” in this secret program, Amy Harper Bellafonte, originally known as Amy NLN (No Last Name) and chosen both for her youth and lack of any living relatives. As the books progress, the Alpha (Patient Zero) and the Omega (Amy) become the opposing beacons: Zero for the destruction of civilization, Amy for its possible rebirth.
I picked up a galley copy The Passage (2010) cold, with no prior knowledge of the author or specifics of the story. As a reading experience, this first book did everything right. It grabbed me as a reader, made me eager to commit for the long haul and see “what happens next”. A masterful combination of vivid, living characters in a familiar yet fantastical world kept me turning the pages. As with the best reading experiences, I wondered what would become of the characters I’d met, and hope I’d meet them again soon.
The Twelve (2012) just felt like a lesser book than The Passage. As a reader I couldn’t lose myself in the story. My lack of interest or “unputdown-ability” wasn’t the result from poor writing or a drop-off in quality from the first book to the second. Maybe the absence of some of the characters I loved from book one? A second book spent following characters I found less interesting from point A to point B?
I finished The Twelve, but I didn’t consume it, bookmark pages, and re-read entire sections with the same intense attention I devoted to The Passage.
So here’s the conclusion: the final volume in the story of Amy No Last Name in particular, humanity in general after The End of The World as We Know It (TEOTWAWKI).
Is The City of Mirrors worth the time spent reading not only its story, but the entire three volume story? Short answer–yes.
It’s a fitting conclusion to an epic story. If you’ve read the previous two books, you’ll find The City of Mirrors a final adventure in a present and future version of our world that is sad and hopeful, epic and personal. The particular story of this book moves swiftly. Even digressions that seem unconnected to the main plot tie in nicely at the end. There are startlingly intimate moments contrasted with epic plot developments. I may not have agreed with every end point, but I can’t argue with how they were reached.
At its conclusion, The City of Mirrors highlights one of the best fictional destructions of New York I’ve read/seen. While the glut of CGI “destruction porn” has made me nervous about reading or seeing it yet again, this section feels like a part of the story, a physical representation of the end of one world and the creation (we hope) of something new. Characters the reader cares about are in the action, and–in some parts–initiators of the actions. It’s of the most cinematic sections of the book; I felt like I was both reading words on a page while seeing them unfold as actions in my mind’s eye.
If the journey is worthwhile, I don’t regret the time and money spent on a book (or movie). Any number of perceived issues I have with specific points in The City of Mirrors in no way diminishes the enormous enjoyment of the reading experience as a whole. Revisiting this world and the people I’ve come to know was both joyful and sad. I look forward to revisiting them and reliving their story.
You can find out more about the trilogy on the official Passage Trilogy website.