MORE GREAT READS FOR JUNE, 2016
The City of Mirrors, by Justin Cronin
I am SO delighted to have finished this book – not because it wasn’t a superb story, wonderfully told, but because it is the last title in Mr Cronin’s trilogy that started with ‘The Passage’ six years ago,(see reviews below) and the details of the first books have faded with time. Given the huge complexities of the plot – not to mention a cast of thousands – Mr Cronin has written in record time his sprawling, monumental account of the world before and after a deadly virus strikes it, but those (like me) who read each book as it was published will have problems remembering who was who, who died, and what the present characters did in the previous books. On the other hand, those who can read all three books in sequence now will be suitably awed by the mighty sweep of the story, and Mr Cronin’s all-too-real vision of our world in ruins.
A century after the lethal virus as part of a failed military and scientific experiment was loosed upon the world, survivors on the American continent have gained huge victories: the twelve monsters created to spread the disease to the population, turning them all into killing machines have been destroyed, in fact no-one has seen a viral for more than twenty years. Rudimentary settlements have appeared in various places, making use of the detritus left behind to reconstruct as best they can the comforts and necessities they took for granted in that life B.V. (Before Virus/Virals). Could it be possible that the danger has passed? Is it safe now to leave the walled cities and towns, and branch out into the countryside to live, as their ancestors did centuries ago – should they take the risk?
Of course. Nothing ventured, nothing gained! Besides, though secure against viral attacks the settlements are becoming crowded; the population has expanded even though local governments have tried to limit it to two children per family; it makes sense to establish new outposts elsewhere, especially if the virals are all dead.
But they’re not. (Didn’t you see that coming!)
All Twelve leading virals were destroyed in Book Two – but the First, the first to be infected, Zero the most powerful, still exists and bides his time; eventually he will mount a mega-attack of his own to finish off those scrabbling absurdities who feel superior because they have survived – so far.
Mr Cronin’s masterly handling of the classic struggle between Good and Evil has as much tragedy as triumph; Zero’s human story elicits sympathy at his luckless circumstances as well as horror, and the main protagonists, despite performing feats that would make Superman jealous never lose their credibility. That is a mighty achievement in itself, but Mr Cronin also gives us a chilling glimpse into a time that we would rather know nothing of, a time where the human race oversteps the boundaries of its tenure on this planet – and nature strikes back. SIX STARS
The Passage, by Justin Cronin
Now: Your first requisite for reading this book is strong wrists – it’s a doorstopper. Your second is a complete suspension of ‘yeah, right!’ comments as I recount my heavily-abridged version of the plot, for this is a novel on the grand scale as well as huge physical size; it’s a tale of a scientific experiment gone dreadfully, fatally wrong, conducted by the U.S. Army in a remote location in the mountains of Colorado, the scientific objective being to create a race of ‘Super Soldiers’, impervious to heat, cold, disease and virtually indestructible, thereby conquering America’s terrorist enemies in Afghanistan and the Indian subcontinent.
There would be no more wounded and dying to be returned home ‘eating up the defense budget in the veterans’ hospitals’; in short, it would be the answer to the Pentagon’s prayers – all that had to be done was to inject a new-found virus into chosen candidates, and after a short period of illness, a new, invincible warrior would be born.
But here’s the rub: the men initially chosen as guinea-pigs for the experiment were all convicts on Death Row, criminals of the worst kind. When injected with the serum they were turned into killing machines, entirely devoid of morals, compassion and conscience – and highly infectious. The major part of the plot deals with their escape, the destruction they wreak on the world, and What Happens Next, for naturally there are some doughty survivors left to battle these thousands of dreadful beings.
Mr. Cronin is a superb story-teller; his masterly plotting and wonderful imagery create suspense of the most heart-stopping kind; at no time does the story sag or lose impetus - no mean feat when you consider the size of this book (760 pages). I read that ‘The Passage’ is the first book of a trilogy: well, my heart and my wrists quail at the thought of the sheer physical weight of words in the next two volumes, but I can honestly say that I can’t wait to continue this epic adventure, at the very least to find out WHAT HAPPENS, but also to know how Mr. Cronin’s characters eventually vanquish the mutants – or will they? There’s only one way to find out: keep reading. Book #2 is called ‘The Twelve’. êêêêê
The Twelve, by Justin Cronin
The Apocalypse is here. The sequel to Justin Cronin’s epic novel ‘The Passage’ has arrived and once again the reader is swept into the bleak and terrifying new world that is the U.S.A., after a failed scientific experiment backed by the military in Colorado loosed twelve fatally infectious mutants onto an unsuspecting population.
The action switches back and forth from the weeks and months after the catastrophe to 100 years in the future, when America stands alone – all other countries of the world have forsaken it in their attempts to keep the virus and its dreadful carriers away from their shores and Mr Cronin paints, as always, superb pictures of the destruction and decay of once mighty cities; the terrible despair and hopelessness of the population; the establishment by brave men and women still fuelled by hope of fortresses in which to build safe settlements, and the efforts of a few who have not lost their nerve to find and annihilate The Twelve so that Americans may once again live as they did in The Time Before.
As in the first book, there are many unforgettable characters, ancestors of those who take the fight in book two to its ultimate destination; they are so beautifully realised that it is a regret to the reader when their role in the story ends. As before, the action and suspense is palpably real – but intermittently: Mr Cronin does not generate in this book the same breakneck pace so necessary to move along a story of this size and scope, and parts of the novel, particularly in the Homeland sections, are less than credible. Which is a shame, for Mr Cronin met effortlessly all the requirements that any reader could desire in book one: perhaps book three will find that exceptional rhythm once again, when good will triumph over evil – or Armageddon will destroy all.
Either way, the reader can count on Justin Cronin to keep them turning the pages until the very end –providing he doesn’t slow down in the middle. FOUR STARS