The vampire apocalypse is finally over.
Unleashing the bloodlust in 2010, Justin Cronin has weaved a survivalist tale of hope and horror. Following the bat borne virus in “The Passage” and the subsequent militaristic weighing down of “The Twelve”, the third and final instalment in this epic trilogy provides a well-rounded, though somewhat bathetic conclusion.
“City of Mirrors” brings the reader to Kerrville, Texas, a few years on from the cataclysmic ending of “The Twelve.” The survivors have once more carved themselves a way of life, colonising the city and its outskirts. The survivors have loved, grown, created life – created a community. It has been three years since a ‘viral’ (Cronin’s own brand of vampire – luminescent, skeletal creatures) has been spotted, the lights are off, the gates are open, and the outbreak has become almost nothing more than a memory.
Our protagonists have been given a life of peace and safety, creating families and working their way through governance and army ranks to forge high ranking status in a thriving community. Michael has given up his family life in favour of repairing an army vessel, fearing the day the ‘virals’ return and devising an escape plan. Alicia – now half ‘viral’ – has traversed the vapid post-apocalyptic expanses of America and found herself face to face, and living with, the first and most powerful ‘viral’. The last three years have provided the characters we have followed through war and heartbreak since 2010 with a respite.
The story’s antagonist, Timothy Fanning – Zero – is provided an inset novella, 100 pages of background knowledge in the hopes the reader will understand his need to destroy mankind. “Indulge me—memory is my method in all things, and the story has more bearing than you think,” a fitting beginning to a story that almost begs the reader to stick with it, it gets better. And it does – briefly.
20 years later and Fanning has spent his immortality in New York’s Grand Central Station, waiting. With a keen eye kept on the survivors, he allows Alicia to return to her friends and loved ones where she attempts to persuade President Peter that the ‘viral’ she has been happily coexisting with for the past 20 years is too dangerous for them to face: “He’s been controlling everything from the start. The only reason we were able to kill the Twelve was because he let us. We’re all pieces on a board to him.” 20 years for Alicia to return and state the obvious to those who lived with her through the Outbreak.
Alicia appears at the gates of Kerrville surrounded by Fanning’s ‘Many’. Thousands of outlying settlers have been “taken up” in a number of days and now they converge on Kerrville en masse; the fast-paced and blood pumping action the reader has waited 500 pages for finally commences.
Here is where Cronin really delivers. Fans of “The Passage” and “The Twelve” are well versed in Cronin’s unique ability to effortlessly create scenes of heart wrenching pain and loss alongside mass destruction. Once more we find ourselves losing well-loved characters at break neck speed, barely having time to register as the war erupts around them. Cronin’s talent for breathtaking battles is undeniable, and as our heroes are chased from the homes they have created and into Michael’s ship the reader is once more thrown into a powerful, emotional scene of chaos.
The battle does not stop there – as a ship of 700 civilians sails off into the unknown in search of land, a last stand is commencing in New York. Soaring from skyscraper to skyscraper, Cronin weaves a masterful tale of destruction. As our heroes take out Fanning, they take out his Many and even New York City itself. Cronin has destroyed the old world and sent a cast of characters out into the new, in the hope of maintaining community on some long-forgotten island. Love endures, declares Fanning; a few choice phrases in a trilogy where bureaucracy is all that keeps our protagonists fighting.
This monumental tale has spanned centuries, and, true to his plot devices, Cronin brings the novel to a conclusion 1000 years into the future – a world where governance and pragmatism has created a civilization not much unlike our own. It is in the droning lecture of a university professor that we learn how our survivors thrived and ultimately repopulated the barren wasteland that was Earth after the Outbreak.
And so, a story that with “The Passage” brought such intensity and daring, has ended conventionally and with relief – finally, the story is over.