And so we arrive at the final chapter of the story originated in The Passage. I enjoyed the first installment, was disheartened by the second… And the third was my first DNF in years – actually, the first since Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, the review of which can be found here.
As I am an (almost) compulsive reader, DNF-ing a book is a big deal. I usually try to finish even those books which I don’t enjoy – there are plenty of examples of such instances on the blog, for example here and here, and here… DNF is a big thing for me. It’s sort of a final, irrevocable verdict, an emperor’s finger pointed down, the sword falling and lions waiting. DNF-ing a novel means for me that the work in question possessed no redeeming quality, no point of access, and that I considered reading it a total waste of time.
Jean –Léon Gérôme Pollice Verso (Thumbs Down) , 1872
So now it’s time to explain why the conclusion to a trilogy which has begun with such a promise was a complete letdown.
Well, for starters it begins with a dive so abrupt and deep that you either accept the book with all its flaws or you don’t. Spoilers ahead!
Alice, of the main protagonists of the previous two books, bitten in the end of book one and saved by Peter with a special strain of virus derived from Amy, by the end of book two was about to succumb to her bloodlust. She gamely wanted to just try a bit (a bag stolen from a hospital, no less) and then die peacefully under the sun. Of course, she survived, still only half-vampire with awesome superpowers and orange eyes, and rode away on her magic horse, the fabled Wild West of the past awaiting her on the East. So far, so… yeah, whatever. Still digestible. But then, at the beginning of book three, we learn that all the rapes and beatings by a fully human monstrosity culminated in a pregnancy. Don’t ask me how it’s possible in a half-vampire which should have all the reproductive functions switched off already, deteriorated, decomposed or whatever, or how it’s possible that she could carry to term a human-vampire hybrid – illogical inconsistencies are a given in Cronin’s work, so let’s just cut to the chase: Alice gives birth to a baby who is a result of multiple rapes and loves it instantly, dearly and truly, without any thought whatsoever about her rapist, and the child’s father, or the torture, or anything else that had happened to her. No, it’s all rainbows and ponies. I know a novel about vampires might not be the best venue to discuss detrimental gender stereotypes, but then, on the other hand, it shouldn’t be a place for mindlessly repeating them. Here the stereotype of a mother who is a thing of nature and thus acts instinctively, without one complex thought of any higher order, and who is physically unable not to love anything that comes out of her, is treated as something universally true and obvious. Sure, I could rant about baby blues, unloved children, the legislation concerning rapes and pregnancies as a result of a rape, etc., but that would would be totally beside the point – what really irks me is that in this one scene a protagonist who had till now retained at least a modicum of psychological reality becomes an empty shell filled with assumption and prejudices of the author.
Imagine that. I still hadn’t DNFed the book at that point.
Then enter the sad multi-chaptered story of Zero, the first human who contracted the virus in the depths of Bolivia, and now became a modern Dracula dwelling in Grand Central Station only to tell the story of his life and wring a terrible revenge on the world which left him alone and in pain. Yeah, just like in classic FPPs once you get through all the levels you have to face the Big Baddie, armed with more guns, more lives and more flunkies to be mown down than anyone else before. The end of humanity [cue crazy laughter ending in one glinting tear]! You get the gist of it – blah blah blah, I’m sad and misunderstood and brilliant, and here’s why and how I’ll end all of you… This piece was so out of place and so terribly written that it really read like something surreptitiously thrown in because nobody in their right mind would publish it otherwise. It was a clash of styles and ages, written with a complete disregard for the worldbuilding and the plot setting of the previous parts, and felt like a shameless grab for more cash, just to make the word count higher.
What really was the last straw for me, however, was the third part, opening with a scene where Peter, the main male protagonist of the trilogy, the golden boy-soldier who learns to become a responsible father and a respected citizen, telepathically cheats on a woman he’s with at the moment – and I mean at the moment – and the one he’s cheating her with is, how to put it… still a minor, at least biologically. I know, I know, the scene should have communicated star-crossed lovers loud and clear, and promote love as the single cosmic idea that possesses the power of absolution, so that the readers could feel a bit of romantic destiny in a world ravaged by an apocalypse… But what it succeeded in creating, at least in me, was a feeling of total disbelief. Juxtaposed with the first part of the book – and the whole previous installment – it served to deliver a clear message: it is ok to cheat on women, and to rape them as a punishment for their independence (and I’m talking here about a visible trend, not a single instance) because it’s in the Natural Order of Things, where the man is the creator, the active force, the true conqueror of the world, and the woman is a passive vessel for other men, the thing created and controlled, a part of nature to be conquered. What a crock of shit, obscenely floating in a heavy, pseudo-Biblical sauce. No amount of poetic interludes can hide the heavy-handedness of plot construction or the clearly religious agenda. I’m all for intelligent religious inspiration, clever allusions or even a bit of openly advertised religious or non-religious convictions of an author – but this treatment has to be honest and fair with regards to the readers. It needs to invite them to a conversation, a discussion, and not hit them on the head with “the only truth there is”. Here, it’s none of those things.
Only then I wished I had a paper version of this novel so that I could slam the covers and send the book flying. A waste of time – not only because of the blatant sexism, but also because of the – clearly rushed – mediocrity of writing, psychological unreality of suddenly utterly one-dimensional characters and truly dumb plot setting.
It’s a big NO for any other books Justin Cronin might have written or might write in the future. Easily the worst book I’ve read in a long time.
2 thoughts on “Justin Cronin, The City of Mirrors (2016)”
Hmm, nothing to add here.. I’ll keep clear of this author.
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