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the passage

THE CITY OF MIRRORS by Justin Cronin

The City of Mirrors - Justin Cronin THE CITY OF MIRRORS

Justin Cronin (enterthepassage.com)

Orion Books (www.orionbooks.co.uk)

£20.00

The Twelve have been defeated and with them, the hordes of virals that sprung from their bloodlines. Amy is gone and Alicia has fled into the wilderness, her infection forcing her to seek isolation. As the years pass, the people of Kerrville grow complacent: they are safe, the virals no longer a threat and they begin to re-inhabit the country, leaving the walls of the city behind for the open country and the chance of a normal life. But Zero, the creature who was once a man named Timothy Fanning, has been biding his time, waiting for the right moment, that moment when the remains of humanity have forgotten to fear the virals, assuring his victory. But the survivors of First Colony have long memories, big dreams and a secret weapon that could well tip the balance in their favour in the epic war that looms on the horizon.

It is almost four years since the second volume of Justin Cronin’s Passage Trilogy, The Twelve, left us on a cliff-hanger. The final volume, The City of Mirrors, picks up eight months after those events, but dwells there only briefly before transporting us over twenty years into the future to a world that is much changed from the one we saw during the earlier volumes. Our band of heroes – the survivors of First Colony and those they picked up along the way – have separated over the years each going their own way, doing their best to find their own place in this new and seemingly viral-free world. Virals haven’t been spotted since the liberation of Homeland and the destruction of The Twelve and, as a result, humanity have largely forgotten their fears and begin to spread throughout the land, shunning the protective city walls that they believe they no longer need.

[Behind every great hatred is a love story.]

In some ways The City of Mirrors is about tying off any loose ends, answering any lingering questions that might remain from The Passage and The Twelve. Foremost of these, of course, is the story behind Timothy Fanning, the first man to be infected by the virus, and who we have therefore known as Zero throughout the series. While The Twelve – the first twelve people that Fanning infected, rapists and murderers all – have been destroyed, Fanning still lives, spending his time in the empty halls of Grand Central Station, reliving the moment of his heartbreak – the catalyst for his eventual infection – again and again for over a century. And it is, as you might expect, a love story, the tale of forbidden love that comes to a sudden and bitter end, driving Timothy Fanning first to murder, and then to the Bolivian jungle where his fate awaited. It’s not the first time in the series that Cronin has taken us inside the head of one of the virals, nor even the first time that we’ve been inside the head of Zero himself, but this visit presents the reader with an interesting challenge even while it helps us to understand the mind-set of this creature who has brought the world to its knees: Cronin presents the human Fanning and, in the process of laying out his tale, makes him a sympathetic and even likeable person, then leaves us to reconcile this before picture with the reality of the after that has driven much of the trilogy’s storyline.

In a very revealing moment that can only be described as soul-destroying, Cronin points to the banality of the destruction of humanity as we now know it, the single lynchpin that defined the moment between life and destruction, and leaves the reader with the overpowering sense that it really is as simple as all that.

[Not an hour would have gone by, her body grown cold in my embrace, before I would have followed her from this world. That, too, was part of my design.]

The City of Mirrors is something of a different beast from the two preceding volumes. For much of its duration, the virals are missing from the storyline and what the characters seem to be seeing – though as readers we know very differently – is a life of comparative normality stretching ahead of them. It’s a testament to Cronin’s skill as a storyteller that he can keep the reader’s interest even while not very much is happening: the characters have grown older and seemingly wiser, though not all content with their lot. While Peter Jaxon – in one of the two lives he seems to be living – is now the president of the Texas Republic and is happy to let people move outside the walls of its capital, Kerrville, Michael Fisher is convinced that there is still trouble ahead and has found a container ship that he is attempting to make seaworthy in order to get himself and as many people as he can recruit off the continent, convinced that the supposed barrier erected around the country’s waters is nothing more than a legend designed to contain the people in times when the technology was still reliable.

As these two individual strands, and the strands of a half-dozen other characters, converge and separate only to converge again at some later point, Cronin teases the reader with hints of what is still to come. Around the halfway point, he catches us unawares, and brings the horror of what the virals are in a single, innocent-seeming sentence:

[As he knelt to look, he heard a high-pitched clicking above his head.]

That clicking is a sound that haunts anyone who has read the earlier volumes and when we hear it here, it comes with a rush of adrenaline and puts us on our guard.

No-one will be disappointed with the epic battle to which the story is inevitably building, but it is the book’s final section that touches the reader the most, and ends the trilogy in some considerable style. From the opening pages of The Passage, we have seen many extracts from “The Book of Twelves” and references to “the Third Global Conference on the North American Quarantine Period”. As the trilogy comes to a close, Cronin takes us to the Indo-Australian Republic and introduces us to some of the attendees of the conference, culminating in a beautiful moment that gives the ultimate closure to the story of The Girl From Nowhere and the people who loved her. It is only after the fact that we can stop to realise just how much of the story Cronin must have planned in advance and of the work involved in making everything hang together.

Without a doubt the best of the trilogy, The City of Mirrors provides a satisfying conclusion to the story started over six years ago. I can almost guarantee that readers will come away from this volume with an intense desire to go back to the start and read through to the end. It’s a project I will be undertaking myself in the near future. Justin Cronin is a master storyteller and his post-apocalyptic vision stands alongside the genre’s finest. With The City of Mirrors, a wonderful story in its own right, he also shows an ability to deliver on the promises he made in earlier volumes. An engrossing plot coupled with characters who are at once familiar and strangely changed – whether because of the four years that have passed in real time since we last met them, or because of the twenty years that have passed in the course of the narrative it is difficult to say – brings a fitting close to one of the best pieces of horror fiction produced in the past decade. This is hopefully not the last the genre has heard of Justin Cronin. I can’t help but recommend this – and the preceding two volumes of what can only be described as his masterpiece – unreservedly.

COMPETITION: Win a Signed Copy of THE TWELVE by Justin Cronin

THE TWELVE PB

Today sees the publication, in paperback, of The Twelve, the second part of Justin Cronin’s epic Passage trilogy. To celebrate the occasion, we have a hardcover copy of the novel, signed by the author, to give away to one lucky visitor, thanks to the book’s publisher, Orion Books.

To be in with a chance of winning, all you need to do is post a comment containing the answer to the question below, before midnight (GMT) on Thursday 9th May. I will select one commenter at random on the morning of Friday 10th May and will be in touch to arrange shipment shortly thereafter.

Good luck!

Question: Bernard Kittridge makes an appearance early in The Twelve. By what nickname is he better known to the world?

If you need a helping hand, be sure to check out Justin Cronin reading an excerpt from the book here.

GUEST POST: Justin Cronin Reads from THE TWELVE (Video)

Justin Cronin - Photo credit Julie Soefer
Photograph © Julie Soefer
Name: JUSTIN CRONIN

Author of: A SHORT HISTORY OF THE LONG BALL (1990)
                 MARY AND O’NEIL (2001)
                 THE SUMMER GUEST (2004)
                 THE PASSAGE (2010)
                 THE TWELVE (2012)

On the web: enterthepassage.com

On Twitter: @jccronin

I’m very pleased to welcome Justin Cronin to Reader Dad today. Cronin’s breakthrough novel, The Passage, was published in 2010 to widespread critical acclaim. It stands as one of my favourite novels of recent years, and one of the finest horror novels of the last decade. This month, the second book in the trilogy, The Twelve, is released, picking up where The Passage left off and returning us to a post-apocalyptic world overrun by virals.

In the video below, Justin reads a short section from early in the novel. So sit back, relax, and enjoy.

If you missed yesterday’s blog tour stop, you can find the trailer for The Twelve over at The Book Smugglers. Tomorrow, the tour heads to Sci-Fi Bulletin, where you’ll find more exciting content.

THE TWELVE by Justin Cronin

THE TWELVE - Justin Cronin THE TWELVE

Justin Cronin (enterthepassage.com)

Orion Books (www.orionbooks.co.uk)

£20.00

Released: 25th October 2012

One [book] that doesn’t appear here is Justin Cronin’s forthcoming novel, The Passage. This epic vampire novel won’t be out until summer 2010, but you’ll want to mark your calendar. Take it from Uncle Stevie, this is your basic don’t-miss reading experience.

At the end of 2009, Stephen King, in his Entertainment Weekly column, The Pop of King, listed his top ten books of the year. He made the passing reference, above, to a book that was still ten months from publication and immediately put it on the radar of its target audience. In this reader’s experience, he wasn’t wrong: The Passage is not to be missed, and prospective readers should in no way be put off by King’s brief description, “epic vampire novel”. There is nothing sparkly here, nothing sexy about the “virals” that grace the book’s pages. The Passage stands, in my humble opinion, as one of the best horror novels of the past decade.

Two years later, Cronin returns to his post-apocalyptic world to pick up the story in the equally-epic The Twelve, the second part of his trilogy. It is nigh on impossible to sum up this complex novel in a few hundred words. Far from attempting it, I’ll touch on the main plot points as a taster of what you can expect between the novel’s beautiful covers.

The bulk of The Twelve’s action takes place five years following the events that brought The Passage to a close. Here we become reacquainted with the survivors of First Colony, who have settled into the new world they have found outside the walls that defined the boundaries of much of their lives. Some have settled down, taken jobs, married; others have followed in Alicia’s footsteps and signed up for the Expeditionary, fighting for the safety of their families and friends. And yet others are no longer in the picture, victims of the attack on Roswell at the end of The Passage, or the passing of time between then and now. One thing hasn’t changed: the desire to hunt down and destroy the remaining members of The Twelve, the death-row inmates who are the original carriers of the virus. But in five years, Alicia’s scouting and Peter’s enthusiasm have failed to find a single one, and the leaders of the Expeditionary are on the verge of giving up.

In Iowa, the town of Fort Powell has been turned into a concentration camp under the leadership of Horace Guilder. Reinhard Heydrich would have been proud, and the comparison is impossible not to make.

The bunks were stacked four high, twenty bunk-lengths in each row, ten rows: eight hundred souls crammed like cargo into a lodge the approximate dimensions of a feed shed. People were rising, jamming their children’s heads into hats , murmuring to themselves, their limbs moving with the heavy docility of livestock as they shambled to the door.

Almost 70,000 souls are imprisoned here, guarded by virals and kept in place by the fact that beyond the city’s walls, they are nothing but fodder. Fort Powell has a purpose – a construction project on the edge of the city – but none of the workers have any idea what that purpose might be.

The Twelve opens up the scope of The Passage and gives us our first proper glimpse of the world outside the walls of First Colony. Entire cities filled with people continue to exist despite the threat of virals beyond the walls. Large reserves of oil found scattered across the country ensure that electricity and motor fuel should not be a problem for the foreseeable future. This is a much different world to the one in which the First Colonists believed they were living. As the chapters cycle through the viewpoints of the original group from the first novel, we begin to see different aspects of this new world, the picture coming together slowly, and in small pieces. The five year gap at first seems a strange approach to take, given the action that brought The Passage to an end, but soon becomes clear as we learn the fates of the individuals involved. It’s a cleverly-constructed narrative that ensures the reader never knows more than they should at any given time.

There are two flashback sections early in the novel. The first takes us back to the Year of Zero, and shows us the world during this transition period through the eyes of a handful of characters both old and new. Bearing in mind that this is a period we have yet only seen at a remove – from the remote cabin where Wolgast and Amy hid – it’s interesting to see how the rest of the world fared. Cronin’s influences are clear here, this section most closely resembling the early parts of King’s The Stand: the formation of groups, friendships, loves; the search for a safe place to set up home. There is also a real-world precedent for some of the descriptions used here, and we get a feeling of post-Katrina New Orleans:

He came to other things in the road. An overturned police car, smashed flat. An ambulance. A dead cat. A lot of houses had ‘X’s spray-painted on their doors, with numbers and letters in the spaces.

Here, though it’s not immediately clear how, we see the origins of the camp at Fort Powell, IA, and those of the Donadio family, a line which leads directly to Alicia.

The second flashback takes us back to a field 18 years prior to the main action, and the abduction of a group of people – mostly children – by what seems to be a well-organised group of virals. Again, it’s not immediately clear how this fits with the rest of the story, but Cronin is building foundations for later revelations.

It was always going to be difficult to follow The Passage with something that packed as least as much – if not, preferably, more – punch. In a world where vampires rule, there is always one major consideration: the food supply. When the predators outnumber the prey, problems start to arise. Cronin takes a clever approach to solving this problem, and The Twelve, as much as anything, is about the consequences of this solution. The characters that we love from The Passage are, for the most part, here and intact; older and, in most cases, wiser. The virals, who for the majority of the first novel stayed mainly in the background, are still not the focus of attention here: they are a problem that needs to be solved, but this is not a vampire novel in the traditional sense; it’s a tale of survival against the odds, a post-apocalyptic fable to match the likes of The Stand and Swan Song. Which is not to say they aren’t a threat, and that they are aren’t creepy – they are, on both counts.

As we approach book’s final third, build-up gives way to action, as all of the pieces begin to fall into place. Here, the purpose of the flashbacks become clear, and pieces that were set up as early as The Passage come into play. The concentration camp theme holds, and the planning phase of the final operation resembles a scene from Escape From Sobibor or The Great Escape. It leads to an action-packed, and somewhat surprising finale, an abrupt end that leaves the reader feeling somehow flat, while leaving no doubt as to where the final book in the trilogy is headed.

Cronin slips easily back into the world he created two years ago in The Passage. The Twelve is a much different beast, as the central parts of epic trilogies tend to be. Starting slow, picking up the threads left loose at the end of the first book, Cronin builds slowly towards a false climax, tying up enough loose ends to leave the reader satisfied, while leaving enough to make us want to come back for more. The Twelve is a worthy successor to The Passage, and is well worth the two-year wait we have had to endure to have it in our hands. Cronin’s plotting is as tight as ever, his writing beautiful, flowing – this seven-hundred page novel is gone in the blink of an eye, a testament to how well written it is. Abrupt ending aside, there is much to love about The Twelve, not least the fact that we get to visit once more with old friends. Perfect autumn reading for fans of The Passage, it should also give new readers an excuse to dip their toes in the water. With luck, we won’t have to wait much longer than another two years to find out how this wonderful story plays out.

PURE by Julianna Baggott

PURE - Julianna Baggott PURE

Julianna Baggott (www.juliannabaggott.com)

Headline Books (www.headline.co.uk)

£14.99

As a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, I am always excited to see what new worlds can spring forth from the minds of writers whose contemplations all start at the same point: what if the world as we know it ended? In Pure, Julianna Baggott gives us a vision of a post-nuclear world where the survivors are split into two groups: within the sealed Dome, the Pure, a group of carefully selected people and their offspring who have survived the nine-year period completely unscathed, and unaffected by the Detonations; outside the Dome, the scarred and mutated wretches, who wait for the day when the Dome will open, and their brethren will come to their aid.

Partridge Willux, a Pure, is convinced that his mother – who stayed behind to save others while the rest of her family escaped to the safety of the Dome – is still alive. He flees to the outside world, where he meets Pressia Belze, a sixteen-year-old girl who is on the run from the local militia. Along with the revolutionary, Bradwell, they set off in search of Partridge’s mother, through a wasteland that is as hostile to the natives as it is to the newcomer. And behind everything lies the Dome, whose leaders are less benevolent than most people think.

Baggott quickly introduces us to her world by effectively throwing us in at the deep end. Outside the Dome, the people are badly scarred and bear sometimes horrific mutations caused, we learn, from nanotechnology used in the bombs, designed to make the victims fuse with the world around them. We quickly discover that even within the wider group of wretches, there are plenty of sub-castes: people like Pressia, her hand replaced with the head of the doll she was holding during the Detonations, or Bradwell fused with the handful of birds that were nearby; the Groupies, people fused with others, becoming a single entity; the Dusts, fused with the ground around them and attacking anyone who walks too close. The ever-present ash covers everything, making this a dull and dirty world where just making it through another day is cause for celebration.

Meanwhile, within the Dome, we find a different picture: here there are no scars, and no mutations. Boys are trained in the Academy, and receive “coding” – physical and mental enhancements designed to prepare them for the inevitable day when they will retain control of the world that has been cleansed for them. Here is a sterile world, where individual thought is frowned upon and anyone not toeing the party line ends up in rehabilitation centres, their rights removed.

There is, as you might expect from the first book in a trilogy of this kind, a lot of world-building in Pure. But there are very personal stories at its heart, and it’s easy to engage with the three central characters, all damaged to a greater or lesser degree and all searching for something – a parent, an identity, acceptance. Baggott handles these intimate stories with tenderness and more than a little (often black) humour, while never losing sight of that bigger picture, or letting the reader forget just how messed up this new world is. The deformities of the people we meet on this journey are often grotesque (Pressia and Bradwell are two of the luckier specimens) but Baggott somehow prevents it from ever becoming comic or unconvincing; it’s a difficult trick to achieve when creating a grotesquery on this sort of scale.

There is a darker side to the novel, too; some shocks and scares that will prevent you getting too comfortable as you read. Post-apocalyptic fiction generally straddles the boundary between science fiction and horror. Pure is more of the former, but with enough of a sprinkling of the latter to make it interesting. This is a brutal and violent world, and Baggott does not shy away from this fact in her writing.

Pure has received glowing advance praise, and I will freely admit that it was the comparison to Justin Cronin’s The Passage that finally sold it to me. It’s an intelligent and entertaining piece that certainly deserves the comparison. It’s closer in tone and setting to Robert McCammon’s Swan Song and certainly no less well-written than that classic of the genre (second, for me, only to King’s The Stand). Personally, the interest now lies in finding out if Baggott can maintain this quality – and the fine balance between believability and self-caricature – over the course of the next two books in the series. Regardless, Pure works well as a standalone novel that is sure to become, along with The Passage, the benchmark against which all modern post-apocalyptic fiction is measured. It’s a must-read for fans of the genre, or anyone looking to see how much more the genre has to offer than the myriad zombie-filled satires that currently fill the horror section of our local bookshops.

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