Review: “The City of Mirrors,” Justin Cronin

Pros: The worldbuilding and characterization are wonderful
Cons: Pacing suffers
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Justin Cronin’s The City of Mirrors: A Novel (Passage Trilogy) is the sequel to The Passage and The Twelve. In book one, scientists created a race of deadly “virals” using twelve death-row inmates and inadvertently ended the world. 97 years later, some pockets of humanity had survived. In book two, viral-but-not Amy and her allies put an end to The Twelve, leaving only Zero, once Tim Fanning, left of the original virals. Now Fanning’s Many are coming awake. He’s ready to push toward Kerrville, Texas, and he’s ready to take on Amy. It’s the year 122 A.V., and most people believe the virals are gone. The residents of Kerrville have spread out into the countryside where they won’t be safe. Michael has been obsessively working to restore the ship he found, with the hopes of saving a mere 700 people. Somehow Amy and her companions need to figure out how to end Fanning, before he ends the human race.

The pacing of the trilogy takes a gut shot in this volume, so be prepared. A very large section backtracks all the way to Fanning’s college days, where he met Jonas and Liz. This is extremely well-written, and actually rather fascinating, but kind of jerks the narrative to a halt. Also, we know pretty much from the early parts of book one that the human race must survive in some part, since some of the narrative comes in the form of things presented at a conference in 1003 A.V. The epilogue of this volume does introduce us to that future, and it’s an unusually long and low-key narrative. Things seem awfully familiar for being 1000 years in the future, but I guess it’s hard to say what would happen if you had to rebuild society instead of building it fresh, so who can say?

Like book two, I’m leaving you with a content warning for rape, although in this case it’s largely the aftermath of the rape of an adolescent girl. Since at some point the narrative leaps forward to 122 A.V., all of our familiar faces have grown older, and there’s a new generation of kids in the picture. There are plenty of people to imperil once things pick up about halfway through.

You’ll find plenty of the character- and worldbuilding you’ve come to expect from this series in here. Even the virals are a bit different, since Fanning seems to have a more finely-tuned control over them. He’s much more human than the Twelve were, and while he’s a bit mad after all these years, it doesn’t feel like the stereotypical insane bad guy at all. All that narrative background gets put to good use–he’s layered and three-dimensional, and all too easy to pity at times.

This isn’t my favorite volume in the trilogy; I definitely got a bit impatient with the early bits, and the epilogue meandered a bit. But the story is so vivid and alive that it’s still a wonderful tale.

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