CGG Book Club: City of Mirrors
Oh man! I have so many amazing books to share with you over the next few months as part of my book club…starting with these two awesome reads!
This is one of those books that you keep on hearing about, until finally you pick it up to see what all the fuss is about. Truth be told, I went into it with two mindsets: One, I had read another Kristin Hannah book in the past and wasn’t the biggest fan. Two, on a more positive note, I love reading books about WW2. I have no idea why – I think because the stories are inspiring in light of the darkness of that time, or perhaps it’s that whole ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ thing that makes so many WW2 books so unbelievable. Whatever the case…I was intrigued by this book, which tells the story of two estranged sisters, Isabelle and Vianne, living in occupied France over the course of the war. The story starts in more or less present day, with one of the sisters reflecting on this dark time in her life, before taking you back and forth between their stories. Vianne is focused on survival: protecting her daughter, waiting till her husband returns from war, dealing with the Nazi that is billeting in her home, and making it from one day to the next. Isabelle is ready to jump on the front lines, regardless of her life, or the safety of those she cares for. Although their stories largely run in tandem, they do intersect in important and bold ways, as each woman learns from the other one.
The story is pretty riveting. Kristin Hannah has a way of drawing you in, in a similar way to other imminently readable books like The Help or The Time Traveler’s Wife. The chapters move along at a great pace and the story breezes (not emotionally, mind you) through the six years or so of the war with ease, as the women slowly change and progress in their stories. I think what I found particularly fascinating was just reading about how the occupation of France really impacted its residents. This was also the setting for the excellent All the Light We Cannot See, but it’s the actual focus here, and it’s an important distinction. I really liked hearing about the quiet and not so quiet ways France fought back against its captors, and it was chilling to realize how dangerous life really was. You think starvation and sudden killings and the like were limited to concentration camps but this book shows they are very much prevalent in this Big Brother-esque environment of everyone being complicit, if only for their own survival. “Better them than me” is a sad theme for large portions of the story, although both Vianne and Isabelle demonstrate fortitude to the contrary. All in all, I very much recommend this one, particularly if you’re into WW2 stories!
What’s the Buzz?: Author Justin Cronin made headlines years ago when he signed a book deal valued at close to $4M for a trilogy of vampire apocalypse novels for adults. When his first book i the series was released in 2010, The Passage, it made waves…in general, you got it or you didn’t. Each volume in the series is long and the story is complex and it jumps around like crazy. But to use the tagline of a popular beer, those who like it (myself included), like it a lot. Now the series comes to an end five years after it began, with another doorstop of a book, The City of Mirrors, coming in at over 500 pages. Now has it lived up to the hype? Read on to find out…
What’s the Plot?: Trying to summarize a Justin Cronin novel is a tough job. His stories leapfrog literal centuries – back and forth too – where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And if you haven’t read much of the series to date, it’s even harder. If you want zero spoilers, I wouldn’t read much of this, although I’m trying to keep it light on plot developments. Essentially, as I mentioned above, The Passage involves an apocalypse, where a group of death row inmates were infected with a disease that gave them vampire-like powers, and as a group, along with those they bite, have pretty much decimated large swaths of the population. The survivors are just that – surviving – although there is hope, in the form of a girl named Amy, who is also infected but different than the others. By the end of the first book, the survivors had a mission to enact, to try and take back their world. The second book focused on that mission (although it was largely different from what you may have expected it to be) and its results.
The City of Mirrors then, is about life after the second book’s mission. Was it actually successful? Who lived? Who died? Where is everyone? What are they doing? Are people safer now? What’s waiting in the wings? It spans a wide swath of time again, including a rather large section that takes place decades before the virus began and centers on the character Zero, and his time as a human (it’s actually rather bizarre to read 100-ish pages in such a normal, pre-virus world). But after getting the formalities out of the way, the ominous feeling of needing to check over your shoulder that lurks over the first couple of hundred pages begins to ramp up…and if I say too much more, I’ll be getting spoilery. The question I’ll leave you with is: how’s it going to end, once and for all?
What Should I Know?: The fascinating thing about this series is that we’ve always known something happens that causes this story to come to light – it’s being reviewed in the distant future. In many ways, the trilogy functions as sort of a fictional textbook account of a historical event. We don’t know specifically who is reviewing it or how they get the information we’re reading, but as you read this one, the ‘who’ question will be top of mind. Portions of the story (throughout the trilogy) are set 1,000 years after the virus took hold, but the crux of Cronin’s tale has largely centered around a period about 80-100 years later. Naturally, you’re going to realize that something important happens during this time, or else it wouldn’t be worth studying. The question, again, is what?
Who Should Read This Book?: Ah, and here is perhaps the most important part of this review! I think a lot of people don’t know what to make of Justin Cronin’s The Passage trilogy. Keep in mind, it came out when Twilight-mania was still gripping the nation, but to call it a vampire series is dismissive. Same with calling it a dystopian series. It’s an expertly crafted world, with a few similarities to something like The Walking Dead, with fascinating characters and a complex plot, but it’s also loaded with plenty of action scenes and thrills to keep you on the edge of your seat. I get why Indigo picked it as a Father’s Day book, as a result. It’s an action adventure dystopian vampire war novel, but it’s got a lot of heart, and it requires some patience to really get it and fall in love with it. I don’t recommend The Passage trilogy easily. I think the books are fantastic, but they require a certain kind of reader that’s willing to stay invested in them. Cronin totally knows what he’s doing, and as a result the payoff in each of his books has been spectacular. Admittedly, for example, even I had my doubts when we backtracked into Zero’s history for a huge chunk of the novel, but then suddenly it underscored so much of what happens from there (and what happened before). Cronin has a master plan. Trust. And recognize that this series is totally worthy of your time. You WILL get your questions answered and you MAY shed some tears. Be prepared.
Now, super excitingly, I have not one, but FIVE copies of The City of Mirrors to give away to my readers. Want to nab one? Here’s how to enter (and be sure to pick up the first two books in the series before you dive into this one!):
1) First & foremost: you must be a subscriber to the Canadian Gift Guide to enter this giveaway. It’s as simple as finding ‘The Gift of Gab’ box in the righthand column and dropping in your email or clicking follow. Then, tell me in the comments below by July 3, 2016 – why are you interested in reading The City of Mirrors?
2) Entries are limited to one per person / per email address / per household (or more if you score bonus entries). A random draw will be conducted on or around July 4, 2016 to select the winner, who will have 48 hours to respond before another winner is chosen in their place.
3) Entries are limited to Canadians that have reached the age of majority in their province. Quebec is not eligible for this promotion.
4) Bonus Entry: Follow Random House of Canada on Twitter, tag them and me (@cdngiftguide) in a Tweet about why you want to read this book! Post a link to your Tweet below in a separate comment to earn yourself an extra entry into the draw.
5) Bonus Entry #2: Follow Penguin Canada on Twitter, tag them and me (@cdngiftguide) in a Tweet about why you want to read this book! Post a link to your Tweet below in a separate comment to earn yourself an extra entry into the draw.
6) Bonus Entry #3: Add this book to your to-read list on GoodReads, and leave a link back to the page it’s on below in a separate comment to earn yourself another bonus entry.
7) Bonus Entry #4: Follow me (@cdngiftguide) on Instagram and share the cover of this book in your own post, tagging me, Penguin Canada and Random House of Canada, telling us why you’d love to read this book. Use the hashtag #thepassage too! Post a link to your photo in a separate comment below to earn yourself an extra entry.