Review: City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin (The Passage Book 3)

The final book in Cronin’s epic scaryvampiremonsterzombie apocalypse series is an odd mix. Of course, the previous volumes (The Passage, The Twelve) were also an odd mix of scaryvampiremonsterzombie attacks, more spiritual quasi-religious stuff, some more soapy elements and some pitches at a more literary vibe.

The most obvious comparison is to Stephen King’s epic viral-apocalypse The Stand but the Passage trilogy is more overt in the physical evil of the threat to humanity and more banal in the psychological or spiritual evil.

As with the previous books, the story shifts between unfolding events in North America in the wake of viral outbreak of vampirism and the events and people which led up to the scaryvampiremonsterzombie apocalypse. The shifts in pace are managed well, even as the novel detours into an account of a bright young man’s academic career in Harvard in the 1990s, while the main protagonists have to hang around Texas for 20+ years, the tension is somehow maintained. Despite being the third book in a long trilogy, Cronin doesn’t unleash the vampire monsters on unsuspecting people till nearly halfway through the book.

The problems I had with the book didn’t really pile up until near the end. And spoilers follow from here:

Firstly, after much hyping of the inevitable conflict between Amy (the benevolently infected messianic saviour of humanity) and Fanning (Patient Zero of the pandemic and mastermind of all the bad shit), it ended up being something of a video game boss fight. Fanning’s machinations didn’t seem to amount to very much.

Secondly, Cronin backs his plot into a corner. His story is set in the USA – which is fine and makes a lot of plot sense as well. The central characters are American’s as a consequence, which again is fine. The vast majority of humanity is killed by plague (more conventionally in most of the world, but in the US the plague also has vampire-zombies) which isn’t very nice obviously but is essential to the whole zombie-apocalypse genre. The religious overtones mixed in with Amy’s psychic powers and also with a sort of dream state afterlife, works OK for most of the book also.

The problem is with the world saved and with a degree of perhaps divine intervention it begins to look like the great trial that humanity has been put through was something to ensure the world was then repopulated by Americans after all the non-Americans had conveniently all died. I suspect that wasn’t Cronin’s intent but when people in the story muse on whether the apocalypse was nature’s way of punishing humanity for its greed it does sound off. Likewise with the Amy character’s saviour arc – she ends up saving the world for America and Americans. I don’t know but it feels weird.

Entertaining? Yes. I read the book in next to no time. Characters? I actually find the main group of characters (who start off as young people in the second part of the first book) all a bit forgettable – Cronin draws a more rounded picture of the big bad than he does of the protagonists. Scary? A bit but then I scare easily.