Review by Mark Palm
As a general rule I would never review the third book in a trilogy without reviewing the earlier books as well. Every now and then though, a work, or a series of works comes along that allows one to throw the rules out the window. The anti-authoritarian streak in me gets a hoot out of this, but more importantly these occasions mean that I have had an opportunity to undergo an unforgettable aesthetic experience, which I can now share with you. The City of Mirrors, the third book in the Passage Trilogy, by Justin Cronin, is such a book, as are its predecessors, The Passage, and The Twelve.
The first two books are about 1,400 pages so giving you a detailed synopsis is out of the question. Basically the story swings from the present, where a science experiment gone awry induces an epidemic where the infected become a sort of vampire/zombie hybrid called “virals”, to the future, where small cities of the uninfected struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Now that is a story that is as old as the bible, really, and my choice of analogy is not an accident. From Amy, the first character we meet in the present, to the band of friends whose story makes up the bulk of the plot, all of the narrative is bound together by a far-future commentary that is deliberately Biblical, and sees this tale of destruction and survival almost as a creation-myth.
There have been a load of mediocre SF novels that have used similar plots, but as Joseph Campbell has pointed out, there are only so many stories. That comparison is also made with purpose, because this work is truly epic in scope, but also deeply grounded in reality, so you can see hear and feel every experience that Mr. Cronin creates with extraordinary tactile specificity. What makes The Passage Trilogy so special is the execution. Mr. Cronin’s prose is beautiful, and he uses it to bring his characters to life in a way that I have seldom experienced. A few pages into the first chapter of the first book, which tells of Amy and her mother, simply broke my heart. And Mr. Cronin manages to sustain that level for just about two thousand pages, and many many characters. That’s why I am raving about this series. When you toss in thrilling action, a wonderfully sculpted plot and an epic story spanning hundreds of years, well, I guess I’m talking about a masterpiece, a phrase that I do not use lightly.
In The City of Mirrors Mr Cronin continues to do the seemingly impossible, in that he wraps up a ton of characters and an immense landscape of action in a truly moving and totally successful finale. The story picks up after the end of The Twelve, and mostly follows the characters the I have come to know and care for since the first book; Peter, Sara, Hollis, Michael, Kate, and of course, Alicia. I had to add that “of course” because of all the memorable character that Mr. Cronin has created, I believe that Alicia is one of those few, and very rare ones that will live on in my mind for a very long time.
As in the previous novels the action jumps into the future, but for the first time in the series Mr. Cronin finally takes us deep into the character that started it all, Patient Zero, aka Timothy Fanning, the first vampire.
Timothy's story took me awhile to get into, because while it was on a very human scale it’s hard to muster much sympathy for a person whom almost dooms the entire human race because of some unresolved romantic issues. Eventually though, when mixed with the plotline of Amy, who is really the center of this whole tale, along with Alicia and the stories of all of the other characters who strive with so much love and dignity in the face of so much death and destruction, it all comes together in the end.
If that last sentence didn’t give you a clue, let me say it here; this book and the ones that preceded it, are not escapist. This is a series that deals with death, and sadness, and horrific tragedy, but in the end it is about the love that forms when people come together to battle horrific odds and terrible adversity, and discover that in the end redemption and freedom can be found, through caring, kindness, and love.
Get this book, and the first two as well. I promise that you will satisfied.
Next time out, I will just be reviewing a book, and not preaching. This is an aberration. Until the next earth-shaking novel I read.