mark monday's Reviews > The City of Mirrors

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
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really liked it
bookshelves: after-the-fall, these-fragile-lives, were-people, mnemonic-devices

4.5! I think this is the first time I've really wanted a .5 option.

Cronin's concluding volume in his post-apocalyptic vampire saga is a lovely novel. Lovely! Such an odd word to use for a book describing the slaughter of hundreds of thousands and the death of billions more by airborne plague. But this is indeed an often lovely book because Cronin is at this point almost completely disinterested in horror. Or terror, or the darkness in human souls, or the abyss that we look into that looks right back 'atcha. He wants to write about families and the light within souls and the way that people can come together when things fall apart. He wants to write about a bright and shining future that is still a human future - and therefore fallible, uncertain. He wants to understand and humanize and empathize with darkness so that it is no longer so dark, but rather something relatable and knowable. He wants to write about hope. And so he did.

The prior books each included a lengthy, more than novella-sized portion set before the Fall of Man. Each of those prior parts were full of action, blood, and danger. Not so much with the sequence set pre-Fall in this book; this flashback is all about the life of a smart, often disaffected young man with a distant father, going away to college, learning to love, learning the pain of a lost love, and all the while trying to forge his own unique identity. It could have been written by John Updike. This part is all about the man who became Zero - the ultimate villain of the series. And yet it is not about a villain, it is just about a man, and the choices and mistakes he makes in his life. A man who later becomes an undead killer and who purposely brings about the apocalypse in order to somehow fill the gaping hole where his heart used to be. A monstrous horror, but still a man.

Cronin fumbles a bit in his portrait of series protagonist Peter Jaxon, and a bit with the series' heart Sarah. I doubt he wanted to turn either of them into mulishly stubborn assholes who refuse to empathize with their childhood friend's trauma, how their friend sacrificed who she was for the greater good, how she was exploited and abused physically, mentally, emotionally... but that's what happened and that's how they reacted. I really came to dislike the often selfish, stupid person Peter became and was disappointed in Sarah too. Did Cronin want me to dislike them? I just don't think so. Ah well. Humans often fail when it comes to empathy and they amply illustrated that failing.

The book has one genuine horror set piece: an extended attack on humanity's last haven (in Texas, of course). When Cronin wants to bring the terror, he can bring it. That was a hair-raising handful of chapters.

Also worth noting is the lengthy epilogue. Despite being set a thousand years from now, it is basically the story of an older man trying to understand himself, trying to understand his son, perhaps falling in love again, and trying to figure out who he is anyway, after all his years of living. A moving story but perhaps not a unique one. But uniquely positioned. What a surprising epilogue! It has nothing to do with horror and everything to do with being human.

The poetic flourishes that were a key part of the first book but were somewhat lacking (or hackneyed) in the second book return in full force for the third book. Cronin is a beautifully lyrical writer, whether he is writing about the love between mother and daughter or the way a homestead looks and feels or the sadness buried within his undead monsters. The City of Mirrors is beautifully written, with many passages worthy of a happy sigh simply because of the gorgeous artistry of the prose.

Beyond the beauty of the writing is the innate soulfulness of this novel - of the entire trilogy. This may not be my favorite (that would be the 5 star The Passage), but it is still a very impressive achievement. And the impressiveness lies within the novel's delicacy and the way his characters resonated with me, in their longing for community and family and a way of living that feels true and natural and good.

It's funny, I was thinking about this novel over the Thanksgiving weekend, which is an odd time to think about a post-apocalyptic vampire novel. I'm a singleton (and hopefully always will be) but during this holiday, I like to get together with a few families and rent a big place to enjoy each other's company and watch the kids run amok and eat lots of food together. This past Thanksgiving was no different. One night after everyone had retired, I sat on a balcony in a contemplative mood, looking out at the treetops moving in the wind and the stars gleaming above them, the sound of the hot tub bubbling away in the background, a soft chilly wind blowing leaves around the various kid toys and clothes and shoes strewn here and there. I thought of the beasts of this trilogy, dropping from the trees to hunt, their souls still trapped within and longing for relief and release. I thought about how Cronin somehow humanized them, made them symbolic of how all humans have a melancholy longing for understanding and connection, sometimes buried deep within, but always there. I thought of his brave, imperfect human characters, always wanting to be together, always hoping and loving and longing, making bad decisions and making good ones, but mainly acting from a need for connection and from a need to make a life with others, and for others. Cronin sees the best in people, even at their worst. I thought that was an excellent way to look at people: always with empathy, no matter how monstrous or fallible or weak a person may be. Look at people, see them; draw them into your life, go into theirs; be together. It was a good Thanksgiving thought.
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Reading Progress

October 6, 2017 – Started Reading
October 6, 2017 – Shelved
November 13, 2017 – Shelved as: after-the-fall
November 13, 2017 – Shelved as: these-fragile-lives
November 13, 2017 – Finished Reading
January 6, 2018 – Shelved as: were-people
December 16, 2018 – Shelved as: mnemonic-devices

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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message 1: by Ted (new) - added it

Ted How can there be no comments for such a wonderful review? Is this a trap? Does mark the Vampire delete all comments,then come after the commenter? Not likely I guess.

Thanks for the review, mark.

Added to 'maybe' shelf.

mark monday Thank you Ted!

If you do maybe read this, definitely read the first book first.

(view spoiler)

Ɗẳɳ  2.☊ What a lovely review, Mark.

message 4: by Ted (new) - added it

Ted mark wrote: "Thank you Ted!

If you do maybe read this, definitely read the first book first.

[spoilers removed]"


mark monday Thank you Dan! And thank you Humanity!

Jack Tripper Excellent review Mark. I've started this book a couple times, but each time I get bogged-down during Zero's long-ass flashback sequence. It's well-written, I just found myself losing interest. Oh well, I need to power through, as I really dig the series thus far (especially the first one).

mark monday thanks Jack! I think a person has to be in a non-horror mood to fully enjoy this, so very little of it has anything to do with horror. that's also why it took me a month to read this - I put it down for several weeks because I started it in October when all I want to read is horror.

message 8: by carol. (new)

carol. I think your review was more lovely than anything Cronin can write.

Em Lost In Books I second that.:)

message 10: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday thank you both very much.

although Cronin is a lovely writer!

message 11: by Jaidee (new)

Jaidee Very good to run into this review Mr. Monday.

Great and helpful review.

I have read the first two books in the series and have been quite impressed. I believe I rated the first one 3.5 and the second 4 stars.
I do want to complete this trilogy.

message 12: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday glad you enjoyed the review. you should definitely complete the trilogy. well worth the time spent.

I think you may be the first person I know who rated the second book higher than the first. that's a surprise! will have to go back and check out your reviews again

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