City of Mirrors – Justin Cronin

Every now and again you read a book which electrifies you. It is so different from anything you’ve read before, it has characters who make their way into your heart and mind or it is just so well-written that you can’t look away. The most memorable example for me, quite possibly, was way back in 2010 with The Passage. The jumps from storyline to storyline in the opening chapters and then the leap forward in time to a post-apocalypse community under siege from ‘virals’ were intriguing; the characters, and especially Amy, were engaging and the whole premise of the virals themselves (something between zombies and vampires and totally terrifying) was fascinating. To be honest this was probably my first post-apocalyptic novel and I didn’t realise they could be this good…Oddly I couldn’t settle to the second book in the trilogy, The Twelve. It was almost certainly not the fault of the book itself – 2013 was quite a busy year for me and I was not the reading machine that I am today. However, this did give me a bit of a quandary. I was happy not to re-read The Passage before starting on City of Mirrors as it was a book which has made a deep impression on me but what to do about The Twelve? In the end I picked up the final book in the trilogy deciding that I’d give it a try and if I found I needed to go back and finish The Twelve then so be it. Luckily for me, however, this book is particularly good at reminding the reader of what happened in previous volumes – my gamble paid off!

9780752897899In the first book we see the disastrous events unfold and then jump forward nearly 100 years to a community living as best it can in California. In the second volume (*rapidly checks plot outline on back of book*), we see a little more of the Twelve originally infected virals and build up to a climactic battle which sees them and Amy herself apparently destroyed. What impresses me about this trilogy is that it isn’t just about fighting the bad guys – both virals and the dregs of humanity who take advantage of the breakdown of normal society – but about how people try, and succeed, to make some sense of the new world they find themselves in.  And this is how City of Mirrors opens – with no sign of virals for years what was effectively martial law is being lifted and people are starting to move out beyond the enclosed townships they have lived in for a generation.

Of course things aren’t that simple. Because we, unlike the survivors, know that as well as the twelve there was not only Amy but also Zero – the original carrier of the virus. This book is, essentially, the story of Zero (formerly known as Tim Fanning) and how a doomed love led him to the jungle in Bolivia where he was first infected. In fact, my impression of the whole book, the whole trilogy, is that it is about love. Love going right, love going wrong, the love of children for their parents and the love men and women feel for each other. And above all it is about the love that parents, and other family, feel for the children whose task it is to be the future. If this sounds maudlin and sentimental it really isn’t – there is plenty of action, death and destruction but there is also, at the end, hope.

Jane

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