A perfect ending for an epic series.
I read The Twelve recently, and I heralded it as one of the best books I’ve ever read. It trumped my expectations set by The Passage, and I couldn’t wait to see what the final book in the trilogy had to offer. Did The City of Mirrors deliver? Absolutely.
The City of Mirrors opens some time after the events of The Twelve, where life has returned to a peaceful state. The world is moving on from the prior atrocities, yet there is still a lurking presence. Zero. As I explained in my review of The Twelve, the book was not quite what I had expected. I did not expect the twelve to be all killed and the virals all but eradicated, leaving only Zero and his army lurking somewhere far away, but the result was positively epic. It blew me away. But how do you follow that? The third instalment of an epic trilogy comes with the precedent of an epic battle or show down: a climax of some kind. And The City of Mirrors kind of has that, but it also kind of falls short of its prequel. If I were to compare the two to The Lord of the Rings movies, The Twelve would be the Return of the King and the epic battle for minis tirith; The City of Mirrors would be perhaps the battle for Helms Deep at the end of the Two Towers, with the black gate battle at the end of the Return of the King following. I suppose, strangely, my complaint is not with The City of Mirrors, but with The Twelve being too good. It's like a fireworks show using its biggest firework 30 seconds before the end. The final fireworks are still encapsulating, and the display as a whole just as intense, but perhaps a minor pacing issue.
Still, it was a perfect final chapter to the series, and I must say my heart was swelling as I read the final few pages, so that’s a huge testament to the lovable characters Justin Cronin has created. So if there’s one complaint I’ll make, and it’s the only one I can think of, it’s that The City of Mirrors is predictable. The main beats of the novel are exactly what you’d expect from a final part of a trilogy, from the main character deaths to the peaceful resolution. Again, that’s not a bad thing at all. The only issue with that is that Cronin raised the bar so high with The Twelve that it was impossible to follow up.
The writing, as it was with the last two books, was superb. The characterisation, dialogue, symbolism, and description was all perfect, and put me to shame as a writer. And although there is less action in this novel than the last, you won’t notice it. The writing is so engaging that, even for a 100-or-so-page section of back story, I couldn’t put the book down. In fact, I read that whole section in a matter of hours. And I think that section, which, if you’ve read the novel, you will know, but I won’t spoil it anyway, really demonstrates the quality of Cronin’s writing. I think in the context of genre, also, it shows that horror can be just as emotive and deep as any other. This isn’t just a scare-a-thon of monsters and gore; it’s a rich, relatable story, at the core of which is love and loss and humanity. And The Passage trilogy is one story. The division between physical books is no greater than that of the different parts within one novel. I would advise anyone who wants to read the series to read it in one go. And in many ways, it’s difficult to write about The City of Mirrors as a book. I should instead review the whole story as one. It’s a very long story, but if you have the patience to sit through it, it will pay off exponentially. And once you start reading, Cronin’s masterful storytelling will carry you through to the final pages. I’ve read so much horror and single books over the past few years, that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be so deeply affected by a series like this. It takes me back to my childhood and reading the final Harry Potter or A Series of Unfortunate Events book. In truth, I’ve had a tendency to avoid lengthy epic for a while, because I’ve read so many lately that I just want a quick read. Not least, because there are so many good books on my reading list, that are around a third of the length of some of the epics I’ve read, and I want to carve my way through a load of them. But The Passage trilogy was one I simply could not pass on, and boy, am I glad I didn’t. It reminds me why longer novels can be far superior to shorter ones. The scope and the depth that are explored are so much greater. The characters become more than just a pair of glasses you don through which you view a story for a short time; they become living, breathing characters that stay with you long after you finish reading the books. That’s not to say good writers can’t achieve this with shorter novels, but it’s not quite the same. And you need a good story for that. Good characters alone aren’t enough to make a reader dedicate dozens of hours to, and Justin Cronin does this again with flying colours. His world is so rich and believable that returning to reality is a chore. The real world is positively more bland. And that melancholic feeling of finishing a story, of parting ways with characters you’ve come to love, is the true mark of a good book.
So The Passage Trilogy is easily one of the best series I’ve read. And I still feel that The Twelve was the strongest act, but that’s okay. It doesn’t detract from the power and beauty of The City of Mirrors. In fact, perhaps it even enhances it, because they are not distinct parts but one whole, and when you close the book at the end, you’re not going to remember the individual books as much as the story as a whole. The story is committed to memory just as your own feelings and experiences are.
Having said this, to close my review of The City of Mirrors itself, it’s a perfect ending to an extraordinary series, and although the pinnacle never rises higher than that of The Twelve, the story and characters themselves are nothing short of excellence. It’s The Lord of the Rings of horror fiction. And that’s no small claim.