End Date: June 25th
Author: Justin Cronin
Pages: 624 (hardcover)
Selected By: Lady Esbe
“The world we knew is gone. What world will rise in its place? The Twelve have been destroyed and the terrifying hundred-year reign of darkness that descended upon the world has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew – and daring to dream of a hopeful future.
“But far from them, in a dead metropolis, he waits: Zero. The First. Father of the Twelve. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy – humanity’s only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him.
“One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate.” – from the Amazon summary.
It has been a long and emotionally exhausting journey. I can honestly say, after so much anticipation between each installment, I’m slightly left emotionally sapped with each conclusion. However, this one left me a bit unsettled. It is not to say that everything wasn’t concluded and tied up in a tidy bow, it just was not exactly how I pictured the end to come. Ultimately, I do believe that our main cast of characters could not come away unscathed or intact at all. I agree with Elle in that, just as you thought it would be a good point to end, it continued on a bit. This novel has a very meandering feel to it. There as a slow build to the apex that took a while for me to get into. Now, again, I’m a busy person and reading in five page increments doesn’t necessarily give you a good feeling about a book.
That being said, Cronin does an extraordinary job in showing us completely different sides of most of the characters. The chief being, Zero, Timothy Fanning. From the advent of the series, I was a bit ambivalent about Fanning. At the onset, he was presented as quite possibly brilliant, spent too much time chasing the skirts, and manipulative to the hundredth power. After all, he slipped into the minds of the attendants in book one and the other twelve subjects of program. However, in this installment, you see a completely different side of Fanning that made you empathize with him. Elle and I both were conflicted by this, because from word one, I had been conditioned to fear and loath Fanning/Zero. We are treated to the side of him that is vulnerable, longing for love and affection and simply insecure with who he is and where he fits into life. However, while I feel horrible that his father made an arbitrary decision in releasing him from his obligations to himself and his mother, I thought it unbelievably cruel (cruel to be kind I suppose) to thrust a maladjusted eighteen-year old into a world that is far beyond his experience or comprehension.
Being introduced to those who shaped Fanning’s later neuroses is insightful and almost crucial to see how his experiences and solitude were a recipe for disaster. Fanning is a contradiction. We are introduced to the hyper focused and socially awkward kid who delves into life at Harvard and acting as the bridge for his even more awkward friend, Lucchesi. With the loss of Lucchesi we see the development of the frenemy relationship between Fanning and Jonas Lear. While Fanning is in awe of Lear’s self-confidence and relationship with Liz, he is ultimately envious of this relationship. Lear taught Fanning to be more self-assured and how to enjoy life. After a series of personal disappointments, you feel for the guy. However, how he chooses to handle these disappointments make you want to punch him in the throat. I fear that because he is so ill-adjusted at life, he was bound to be the worst candidate, albeit involuntary, as a test subject, ever. It is evident that he cannot handle disappointments and rejections and as time ebbs and flows those things become compounded; wrongs, misremembered and exaggerated. Combine just normal perception of a situation and add the virus into the mix, we have a whole world of hurt coming forth.
As with most of the characters, solitude is not a friend. This is especially true for Fanning. Again, his perceived wrongs and hurts has caused him to lash out in the most horrible way, and thus the world being overrun by virals. By extension, we see this as a problem or Alicia as well. From the word go, Alicia has been more than obnoxious in her capabilities as a warrior. We learn that Alicia is not one of Babcock’s and Amy’s. She is of Fanning. To find this out after the trauma she suffered in the second novel, it was painful to read her descent. I never liked Alicia and unfortunately, we go from one extreme to the other with her. ***** SPOILER ALERT***** >>> The Twelve finds Alicia as cocky as she ever was, until she is taken captive in Homeland and assaulted. Unfortunately, she wasn’t merely traumatized; she walked away from that assault with a passenger. I don’t think she ever thought about being a mother, but once the prospect was thrust upon her, she was willing to take it on. Unfortunately, the child did not survive which further warped Alicia’s sense of self. She answers Fanning’s call and spends twenty years with him wallowing in her own self-pity, just as Fanning does. However, Alicia’s seeming self-pity is causing herself to be more the victim than anyone in the novel, at least in the beginning. Alicia is easily manipulated by Fanning, not merely because of age and experience, but by the sheer warped mentality that he has. He is unlike any enemy she has faced previously, he is cunning, calculating and not a mindless drone only striving to fulfill their basest of needs…hunger. <<< *****END SPOILER*****
This brings me to the point of what I truly couldn’t understand… A short twenty years ago, our main characters went into battle with the Twelve (but not really). You defeated these but you also know there is one before them, as well as Amy as the Omega. So how did they come so complacent in such a short time? While Peter was insistent on Caleb creating a safety shelter on his new homestead. However, when the impending problems are presented to Peter, he is caught in a world of disbelief. This, quite frankly, bugged me to no end. He was present at every major turning point in this venture and while he now has more responsibility over more people, his unwillingness to accept Michael and even Alicia at face value was bewildering. Peter is steadfast, as he ever was, but he has also grown softer or is it that we are now seeing him as he truly was, someone thrust into a situation where they are led by events vice their own movements? As I think back over the course of the novels, Peter never really made conscious, deliberate decisions. His movements were always dictated by his circumstances and what Amy needed versus any true decision of his own accord. So while I was annoyed with Peter, I didn’t expect too much more from him.
Unfortunately, I can say Sara and her daughter truly annoyed me throughout the book. Sara started off with promise when she gave up her right to have another child. However, what I couldn’t stand is her whiny demeanor and overly angry attitude. It’s no one’s fault that her child died but her child’s but she takes this stance with Alicia as if she is the cause of their ruin. I beg to differ, your complacency and sense of entitlement has not served you or your child well. She was a bit too indulgent. To further my annoyance with Sarah, she wants to blame Michael for his distance. While it is his fault, her sense of being wronged by her only brother was enough to wish her physically present so I could punch her.
Amy is kinda a nonissue for me, or I should say that her presence is so “blah” that I kinda had to shrug about her. To say that I expected this end all be all confrontation with Fanning is an understatement. It was tense, sure. However, it just felt trite and a story played out about a thousand times in many books. To start we still have Amy as a viral and then her transformation. This I could appreciate and was even happy when she transformed back. However, there wasn’t much time to enjoy this and her ability to articulate now seems even worse than when she was unable to speak. Also, during the course of the book, her “martyrdom” is a bit overdone until the end. There isn’t ultimately a battle of wits or even a real battle. It felt half-hearted and I was ultimately disappointed in how it turned out, while I expected there would be some casualties in this.
While I wasn’t pleased, I could find solace in Michael, Lucius and Hollis. In my mind, these characters are all they ever had been, while time may have passed, they all remained their steadfast selves. Michael, ever the analyst, inventor, thinking man realizes that there is still a problem despite the apparent calm. As Michael does, he takes the burden unto himself and he seeks to resolve the issue and prepares for the inevitable battle that is on the horizon. In doing this, he isolates himself from those he loves the most, but it clears his path to do what needs to be done. Of the characters in the novel, he is the only one left unresolved and I hope that Cronin decides to write on the adventures of Michael post City of Mirrors. I also appreciate Lucius, that despite the fact that he is terminally ill, he is ever resolved and diligent in his duties to Amy, Carter and Michael. While I realize he was older, I hated that he was ill during this book, but that also showed his resolve. He is a soldier at heart, sworn to complete his duty and does it until the very end. He is touched with the mystical this time and has visions for Michael to enact to ensure the endurance of mankind. Finally, we have Hollis. Hollis, who has been strong in his quiet way, but muscle when needed, proves that he hasn’t lost a step in his old age. He’s soft spoken, but when he speaks you better listen.
I cannot beat a dead horse on this. I didn’t need to know they why of Fanning, I was alright with him just being the unknowable enemy that you should fear. There is more to fear in the unknown than to understand him. I didn’t need to know what made him tick or how he came to the “burn the world’ attitude. Even understanding his attitude didn’t make him any less evil or diabolical. Was he wayward? Absolutely. Was he dealt a kinda of crappy hand at some point? Sure. However, that doesn’t excuse his kill them all attitude. In that, he is no worse than the first eleven of the twelve. He too is a murderer who just hasn’t been formally punished for his crimes. I wanted everyone to survive, but such is not life and not everyone could make it to safety in the end. What is truly disappointing about this book is that it could have ended with the standoff. I could have ended with the Amy wondering off into the wilderness, but nope, it kept going and going. I am not sure what the thought process was, but I was thinking he just couldn’t let it go. I wanted this to be as great as the first two books. Some parts had the spark of brilliance and some was truly disappointing. But alas, I have my resolution, even if now I want to know about Michael’s fate. So Mr. Cronin, if you decide to expound upon Michael’s later adventure, I’d surely appreciate it.
Esbe’s Favorite Character(s): Anthony Carter, Lucius Greer, and Caleb Jaxon.
Lady Esbe read the Ballantine hardback version of this book.
I thought for a moment I’d done it again. I am a notoriously excitable person, and when the release date for The City of Mirrors was finally announced, I think it’s fair to say I lost my mind a little bit.
Okay. A lot.
And this presumption that each installment by my favorite authors will be as good or better than the last tends to leave me disappointed a lot of the time. So, to be fair, let me preface this entire review by saying that Justin Cronin has still written an excellent and frightening dystopia, and there’s a good chance that some of my disappointment with this particular book, the final of the trilogy, is my own fault. I was really psyched about this book’s release, and I just don’t know if anyone could have topped how gloriously panic-attack inducing those first two novels were, especially when combined with the four-year-wait loaded with anticipation before this finale.
That being said…
I’ll admit that, for someone who was ready to just jump right in and get to the Fanning-hunting, the first half of the novel came across as a bogged down collection of disjointed and fairly dull novellas. If you think about it, readers have known since The Passage how this had to conclude – or if not exactly how, at least what the inevitable outcome would be. You’ve seen the notes and read the transcripts from the humans living a thousand years in the future, so you already know, before you even finish the first book of the series, that the vampires / virals must be destroyed or contained somehow in the not-so-distant future, and that humans will find a way to not just survive but thrive – I mean, they have the luxury of using valuable resources and manpower to study the past, so they must be infinitely better off than their ancestors, whose lives make up a majority of the second book and most of the third.
But whereas The Passage and The Twelve wasted no time dropping you in the thick of things, setting up the board and laying out all the pieces while simultaneously regaling and baffling you with the rules of their game, The City of Mirrors suddenly does a 180 and decides to be infinitely more methodical. This makes it, in comparison to its sister novels, infinitely more plodding… even slow. The first half of the novel is predominantly taken up with letting you know how all the characters have gotten on since we last saw them. Some have retreated from the world, choosing instead to pass their days within their own heads, living out the make-believe lives they never had the chance to have in reality. Others have, in the absence of the virals, opted to finally begin to truly live for themselves, establishing families, homes, colonies, and entire towns and settlements across the southern U.S. Everyone, including the core group we’ve followed since they were just a bunch of wildcards roaming the post-apocalyptic wasteland left behind in The Passage, has gone far, far beyond comfortable… they’ve grown complacent. Throw into those 300+ pages a short-story about unrequited love that ends with the only possible cure for the jilted lover’s broken heart – the destruction of the world in the name of love, naturally – and suddenly it’s not so hard to understand why BillMo set her Kindle down with a sigh and waved a white flag in defeat.
But don’t you do it, fellow reader. Don’t you dare. If you’ve made it to this point, if you’ve finished the first two books in the series, then you owe it to yourself to find out what happens. And the last half will make up, at least somewhat, for the relatively dull first 50% of the novel. In my opinion, Cronin is best at confrontations – the first half of the book lets you grow bored with the brave new world of farming and child-rearing, and just when you begin to ponder whether or not to wait for the series to come to the big screen (which is happening, by the way), he jumps out and gets ya. Settlers disappear, virals drop from trees, and suddenly we’re at it again – the horde versus the humans, winner takes all. I liked it, there’s nothing in those pages not to like, but I couldn’t get past the notion that the confrontations, from the Noah’s Ark style contingency plan to the final clash in New York, were a little too epic, as if they’d been planned specifically with the silver screen in mind. And that’s okay – if I had to pick a way for this trilogy to end, I’d go with the bang versus the whimper any day.
So. The beginning almost lost me, the last half of the novel managed to amp things up to such a degree that I rolled up my two-cup rating to a four-cup rating, and then…
And then the never-ending epilogue was done to me. Yes. I didn’t read it so much as have it done to me, to my person. It was foisted upon me. Shoved down my throat repeatedly every time I hit the “Next” button, expecting it to be over. I yanked a full cup rating away based on that last 15 pages or so, because I truly believe the entire book could have done without that travesty – the entire series, in fact, deserved better than that. To summarize my disappointment with the ending: we essentially fast-forward to the future, to the humans living 1000 years ahead of our own time (900 years down the road for the characters in The City of Mirrors), and the humans who make up that civilization are…
Now, I’m a history buff, and I can honestly say that the one thing you can bet on when it comes to the history of humans as a whole is that we tend to rally; sure, we build great things, marvels of engineering that baffle the mind and challenge the gods… then we destroy them and new things rise in their places. China, Egypt, Rome, Vikings, Greeks, the Inca – these were all mighty civilizations once, the greatest in the world, and they fell or collapsed or imploded… and what makes them memorable is that each was great in their way; when one of them fell or faded into memory, an identical one didn’t rise up in its place. But what we find is that the mysterious civilization of people whose history is our future is us, exactly us. We living here today are essentially the generation that sees the end of the world, that gives rise to the viral species, and in a millennium the offspring of the tenacious survivors are living almost identical lives to our own. They wear suits to work. They use helicopters and telephones. They have computers and read books. They have secretaries and PAs.
If that’s the best we as humans can manage after a thousand years, a repeat performance of the exact same civilization that brought the world to its knees to begin with, then I say bring on the virals – at least they were friggin’ evolved.
Elle’s Favorite Character(s): Michael “Circuit” Fisher, Caleb Jaxon, and Lucius Greer. These three characters demonstrated the most common sense throughout the story and are probably the only ones who at no point had me shaking my Kindle and screaming, “What the hell are you doing? Did you even read what happened to you people before? Are you all high?” And out of all of them, Michael was by far my favorite, even though he did sort of pull a Rime of the Ancient Mariner on me and go “… alone, alone, all, all alone, / Alone on a wide, wide sea! / And never a saint took pity on / My soul in agony.”
Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
Caveat: BillMo Finished Half of The City of Mirrors, Then Stopped. Cuz. Yeah.
First of all, I must apologize for not being able to finish this month’s selection; I don’t think my rating should count in the average unless I am able to finish the book and give a full account of the story, so, again, I apologize if my lower score brings the overall rating down.
“What was childhood if not a passage from light to dark, of the soul’s slow drowning in an ocean of ordinary matter.”
I wasn’t as drawn in to this book as I was the first two of the series. One thing I didn’t particularly care for is that the stories seem to be told by different people. In each of the previous books of the series, Cronin’s references to the past were easier for me to relate to, and I always liked those accounts better than what was being described as “the present.” The stories of the past – the events leading up to the destruction of the world by the virals – always seemed much more adult to me than those taking place in the post-apocalyptic “present,” where the cast seemed to always be in some sort of limbo between young adults and adults.
“I make you see the game the way I need you to.”
That being said, I can honestly say that The City of Mirrors was my least favorite of the entire series, mostly because it is almost entirely taken up with the borderline-teen-drama of the post-apocalyptic “present.” Unlike its predecessors, this installment doesn’t hit the ground running, which made it much harder for me to get into. In fact, I got about 50% through, and I think, based on what the other Ladies said during their reviews, that might have been where the action finally really picked up. Now that I know what happens and how the story ends, however, I can also say I’m not all that disappointed in not having completed the book myself. My overall impression in just the half of the book that I read is that Cronin, like the Maze-Runner Trilogy, just didn’t know where or how to really end the story and so went entirely Michael Bay on us. And I hate Michael Bay.
“We search for ourselves in our surroundings, and everything I saw was either brand-new or falling apart.”
The next and final quote I liked from this selection seems to really illustrate the way the world is now, where no one seems to be able to really and truly disappear:
“There was a time in America when it was still possible to disappear by going left when everybody expected you to go right.”
BillMo’s Favorite Character(s): Michael Fisher, aka “Circuit,” for making some sense in a cast that seemed to be floundering at every turn. A close second would be Lucius Greer, even though I think he should have shared his knowledge of what was happening in the world to the others – of course, this would have led to different outcomes in the story, but still.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.