Review: The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

May 19, 2016 Books, Reading, Reviews 2 ★★★

It’s been a while since the second book in Cronin’s The Passage series came out; four years, in fact. If you’re a fan of the series and haven’t done a re-read in a while, you might want to before reading The City of Mirrors. It drops you into the story a few years after the end of The Twelve, and if you can’t remember who each person in the cast of thousands is, it can make for some rather rocky reading.

This is kind of a difficult review to write, honestly. I think The City of Mirrors is a good story and is for the most part a satisfying conclusion to the series, but there are a few big flaws that really interfered with my enjoyment. This review will contain spoilers, though I’ll try to keep them vague. If you haven’t read the series at all, you might want to skip this review and read my review of The Passage to see if you’re interested in the series.

The biggest problem I have with The City of Mirrors is its pacing. The story didn’t really start moving forward until the 50% mark, and I gave serious thought to just giving up on the book several times up to that point. It was more stubbornness on my part to actually finish this book that got me to the end. Cronin takes a lot of time setting things up, reintroducing you to each character as they are in the years that he jumps forward both from the end of The Twelve and within this book itself. And honestly, I really didn’t care for the level of detail about the minutiae of these characters’ lives. It was way too much, and I didn’t feel like it added much to my experience as a reader. I appreciated being introduced to new (or newly grown up) characters, but there’s a point where I wished Cronin would wrap up the slice of life stuff and get moving on the plot. You know, the whole thing about the virals making their final move to wipe out humanity? That plot? Yeah.

Much to my frustration, about 25% of the way into the book, we’re suddenly treated to a full quarter of the novel’s length in first person, told from Timothy Fanning’s point of view. You probably remember him better as Zero, the original virus carrier. I found myself skimming this section, until it gets to the more relevant parts of his later life, because honestly, I didn’t need to read a self-indulgent memoir of a Harvard-educated guy. This section of the novel was equal parts obnoxious and weirdly fascinating, and it felt very jarring, like being dropped into an entirely different novel. I wish it had been a lot shorter.

Something that bothered me about The Twelve still bothers me with The City of Mirrors: the narrative reliance on rape as a plot device and the often rigidly enforced gender roles. Nearly every named female adult character has a child, whether by her own choice or not. Even Alicia, the female character who steps the farthest outside of a traditionally feminine gender role, is punished by giving birth to a child conceived by rape and is further punished by having the child, whom she’s decided that she really wants, die shortly after birth. Amy doesn’t have biological children, but her entire function in the series is basically to act as a mother figure for the other characters and, later, to humanity. It really feels like the women in the story are mostly put into a healer/mother/nurturer mold, and it was very restrictive and frustrating for me as a reader.

Once the viral invasion plot starts moving forward, the book became much more of an enjoyable read for me. I was particularly interested in the ending, and I found it mostly satisfying. If the book had been pared down to make a more streamlined version of the story, I’d rate it higher. As it is, the pacing really hamstrung my enjoyment overall. If you have more patience than I do, you’ll probably find this a good read. Honestly, I was mostly glad to get to the end and find out how humanity fares after the viral apocalypse.

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