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The City of Mirrors
By Justin Cronin
Ballantine Books, $28.00, 598 pp
Published: May 2016

This is final novel in his trilogy.  Click here for a review of “The Passage” and here for a review “The Twelve”. This continues the post-apocalyptic story of a post-vampire-virus America.  The pace is still rocky with little vignettes that are all over the time line. 

As the main story begins, it has been some twenty years since a viral was sighted and people within the compound are getting restless with all the fertile empty land waiting outside so they began to leave to build outside the walls.  Michael finds an empty tanker run aground near Houston, TX.  The find is critical to the story for three things:  a newspaper article that finally puts to rest the colony’s hope that only America was affected by the virus and the rest of the world was still out there; the expected port for the ship; and the ship becomes Michael’s raison d’etre.  Time is more than a little slippery in this book so it’s some time after Michael has turned all his energy and resources to restoring the ship that Greer finally tells him the news that no one would want to hear:  the virals are returning.  Greer knows because Amy told him; Amy – who hasn’t been seen since the slaughter of the Twelve in book 2.  Amy and Carter survived – if it can be termed that.  But they are both trapped in a viral body with no control over their murderous instincts.  Greer keeps them safe and well fed while the two live out the next twenty years in some sort of shared dream-state.

Alicia left the Homeland at the end of the second book and traveled to New York City – answering a call.  When she got there, she met the first viral, patient zero.  Zero – born Tim Fanning – was just an ordinary guy with a hard-luck story of lost love.  But, in this case, Tim’s unresolved anger and issues may well mean the end of all humankind on the planet because he isn’t done.  His first apostles, The Twelve, are gone (he doesn’t know where Carter and Amy are) but he has plenty of virals left that answer to him.  He’s been biding his time but he’s about ready to finish off what’s left of mankind. 

Well…where to begin.  The plot is excessively convoluted but that’s mostly due to the hopscotch nature of the chapters which flash between characters, time-lines, and even reality.  There’s one whole section of some 100 pages that is Zero’s backstory – I can’t tell you how much I hated that.  If it absolutely had to be in the book, it should have been a prelude, not dumped into the middle of another story.  If you don’t remember who all the players are, you’re in trouble as the author makes no attempt to explain anything at all about who they are – and it’s been four years since the last book.  There is a clever prologue that lays out the synopsis of the first two books in biblical fashion that is, I suppose, the author’s way of reminding us of the characters.  And, while clever, it was not sufficient to place me within the story and the characters.  It does do one thing:  it confirms that humanity survives well into the future – sort of a spoiler.

There were ideas or story threads from the first two books that are never picked up.  It was difficult to follow each character’s twenty-year development mostly because the story bounced around too much.  One of my pet peeves is that an author should never make a reader work that hard.  Overall, the plot was interesting:  will Michael and his crew get the ship seaworthy before the virals attack, now that the compound has been dismantled and people are living unprotected, how many of them will survive the surprise attacks?  How many will make it to the safety of the ship – that can only hold a fraction of the population?  Will Michael’s ark be able to make the journey to the promised land?  But the story structure is the novel’s biggest problem.  This could have been a pretty good vampire tale if the author hadn’t tried so hard to be clever.  Oh, and I also hated the whole metaphysical story threads – it kept confusing me as to what was mystical and what was real but in the past.  And he never explained any of it!  He also never explained why it was that Amy and Alicha shouldn’t accompany the last remaining humans – only that they still had the virus in their veins; which really made me mad at the ending.  I hate endings that don’t make sense.  I think he was going for the whole statue-of-liberty-at-the-end-of-Planet-of-the-Apes thing.  Nope, didn’t like it; that was a whole lot of reading hours I’m not getting back.   ~ Catherine Book

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