I didn't quite know what to expect when I sat down to read Justin Cronin's City of Mirrors. This series has shown signs of brilliance in the past, yet it can also be terribly clichéd and generic. This was the final installment in the trilogy, and I was curious to see how the author would bring all the storylines together and tie up all the loose ends. Hopefully we would get the sort of grand finale that would blow our minds.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. Again, some portions of this third volume are awesome and page-turning. But the endgame and its aftermath are decidedly over the top and kind of a letdown.
Here's the blurb:
You followed The Passage. You faced The Twelve. Now enter The City of Mirrors for the final reckoning. As the bestselling epic races to its breathtaking finale, Justin Cronin’s band of hardened survivors await the second coming of unspeakable darkness. 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.
Structurally, this book is a mess. With two huge yarns to build on, one would have thought that Cronin would have no trouble streamlining the plot and lead readers toward the ending. And indeed, at the beginning of the novel, it appears that this would be the case. City of Mirrors opens up 8 months following the liberation of the Homeland at the end of The Twelve. This first part is meant to establish where the various protagonists are and what they are doing following the destruction of the Twelve. Problem is, the author then kills the momentum for the first time with the full recounting of Tim Fanning's life before and after he became known as Zero. This part consists of over a hundred pages and is totally unnecessary in the greater scheme of things. True, in order for this final installment to pack a more powerful punch, and for the end to make any sense, readers needed some background information on the man responsible for bringing mankind on the brink of extinction. And yet, though we needed his back story, we certainly didn't need the excrutiating minutiae of every single detail about his life. Starting with the third part, we fast-forward two decades, at a point in history where humanity's fate will be decided. For the next three hundred pages or so, City of Mirrors is impossible to put down. Thrilling and entertaining, it's a real page-turner. The endgame, though exciting, was way too over the top for me to enjoy. It felt as though I was in a Michael Bay movie, time and time again. And then, for some unfathomable reason, Cronin went for an epilogue set nearly a millennium into the future. And weighing in at more than 40 pages, that epilogue once again kills whatever momentum engendered by the rousing finale. All of which makes for a markedly uneven reading experience.
The characterization is definitely my favorite aspect of this book. It was nice to see these men and women shortly following the events that led to the liberation of the Homeland, and then discover how they had evolved over the course of the next two decades in a world now free of virals. It was interesting to see familiar faces such as Alicia, Amy, Peter, Sara, Hollis, Lucius, and Michael adapt to this new life devoid of the dangers they had faced on a daily basis growing up. And it was also nice to see Caleb as a grown man with a family of his own. Justin Cronin created an amazing cast of characters for this series, most of them three-dimensional men and women that are easy to root for. They're an endearing bunch, no question about it. Trouble is, as was the case with Robert Jordan, Cronin loves his protagonists a bit too much. And even if some of them actually die before the conclusion of this ambitious tale, the author's desire to see them all have an important to role to play in the final showdown was too overdone. The Michael-Bay-esque endgame felt a bit incongruous with what the previous novels had accustomed us to. As far as the epilogue is concerned, once again Cronin felt the need to introduce us to a new cast of totally unnecessary characters and minute details regarding the life of a scholar. The events described in the epilogue are important, that goes without saying. But that final scene, which caps off the entire trilogy, did not require Logan Miles' back story and love affair.
For the aforementioned reasons, the pace throughout City of Mirrors is quite crooked. It starts well, but then the rhythm is brought to a standstill in the portion elaborating on the life of Tim Fanning. Justin Cronin then puts it into gear and takes it up a few notches for the better part of the book. The pace reaches its peak for the final showdown, before dying once more in the epilogue. In the end, the weird structure selected by the author is detrimental to the overall reading experience. Moreover, it overshadows the qualities that make a sizeable chunk of City of Mirrors quite enjoyable.
All in all, City of Mirrors contained all the ingredients needed to come up with a memorable final chapter in Amy's tale. Sadly, structural problems and poor execution turned what could have been a great read into a so-so experience. Which is disappointing considering that the stage was set for something special. . .