I recall not thinking too highly of the first book in this series. Why did I read the sequel? Because I’m a completionist? Because my memory of the first had faded? Because I’m willing to go through a bad book sometimes just for the fun of writing a bad review? (Mostly this one probably.)
It might be all of the above.
This book was terrible.
Let me get that out in the open, just so it’s clear. The first book was sort of a zombie/vampire book shoved into the plot of Watership Down with varying degrees of success. It was also full of weird spiritualistic mumbo mixed with religious symbolism and pseudo science jumbo (with an emphasis on the pseudo).
This book turns everything up to eleven except the excitement, plot, character development, interest, and general readability. Oh and the prose is so purple in places it’s hard to see the words. In other places it’s just bad, there isn’t even an attempt to not sound awkward. Much of the book feels completely unedited, or even written coherently. It sounds like Cronin took a nap while typing and when he woke decided not to go back and read what he had written. Do you ever read a scientific journal and come across an article that is talking about something that you don’t have the background to understand and you know what each word means on its own but the sentence has no context or meaning and your brain just can’t parse it? That is exactly what it’s like read Justin Cronin only without the advanced ideas. Sometimes the individual words make sense but the configuration of them is completely baffling. Not unlike listening to a two year old babble. You know there’s a story in there but you just can’t see it through the obfuscation.
I frequently found myself saying “what just happened?” Eventually I learned that I’m not supposed to understand, because nothing happened.
All the old characters are back. Correction, none of the old characters are back but there are a bunch of analogues that happen to have the same names. There’s Peter Jaxon (much cooler name than that movie director guy) who wanders around getting angry because he can’t figure out why there’s an ‘x’ in his name. He occasionally decides to argue with people or maybe finally do something but Cronin is careful to make sure that doesn’t happen. He cuts away to talk about people nobody remembers for a couple hundred pages until our illustrious Jaxon with an ‘x’ forgets about his resolve to accomplish something.
We also get to see Amy, who inexplicably has decided to grow up (after a hundred years) and turns form a little girl to a woman over night. This means that suddenly she is a love interest for the hero — if we can figure out who that is, despite the fact that for all of the time he has known her she is a little girl. It doesn’t matter, Cronin tells us, it’s Amy, nothing really makes sense about her. He has a point.
Did I mention there are a lot of things in this book that are just plain creepy — and not in a good way?
Nerdy engineer types suddenly turn into body builder jocks, vampires are harvestable and drinking their blood provides immortality and Cronin seems to have an unhealthy obsession with the mentally handicapped — i.e. they are always bad guys. A pregnant woman who miscarries is doomed to succumb to madness and hallucinations but because she’s so beautiful all the vampires will worship her and be calm whenever she is near?
In fact the vampires are almost completely defanged. They get hunted for sport, thrown in arenas for gladiatorial combat, and harvested for their blood. I wouldn’t be surprised to see sparkling skin but I may have zoned out in self defense through some of the lengthier passages so I can neither confirm nor deny.
The only major character who is not a white person develops some kind of magical foresight powers and starts talking riddles — this must be because the magical black person in the first book was killed.
Some of the dead characters from the first book show up with no explanation and nobody is surprised in any way. Did any of the people involved in this book’s production actually read the first one? Maybe it’s not really a sequel. Maybe it’s just a similar world with characters that have the same names? I don’t know, but dead people are now alive. Living people are suddenly dead. Some vampires are nice, some are mentally handicapped so they wander around and don’t hurt people?
Cronin is incapable to telling any scene in linear order. As soon as the action starts we have to jump past it, be assured that everybody lived, then tell the action in flashback, every time. It kind of felt like the Grandpa in the Princess Bride stopping the story to say “She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time, you know.” Just in case these action scenes are too intense for you let me tell you that afterward people would wonder how he survived. Now we will take about two pages to repeat that a few times using different wording combinations just to make sure that you understand he survived. Then maybe we’ll flashback to the action — or maybe not — Cronin might decide to jump to another century, or world, entirely.
The post-apocalypse of our future is littered with popular classical literature with not a single work of popular fiction to be found. There are frequent references to characters finding old books to look at and read or reminisce about but they’re all classics of literature as if Cronin feels a need to show off which books he is familiar with. (Since romance books outsell everything by an order of magnitude, one hundred years after the collapse of society the most easily found books will probably be romance novels…)
There are so many things to complain about in this book. It’s portrayal of people is almost alway inherently racist (I don’t think this is on purpose), sexist (I’m not sure about this one) and intolerant of handicap (I’m almost convinced this is on purpose). Any time a female character starts to get a little bit confident Cronin throws her into the tired trope of getting raped to bring her down a notch. Not only is this uncomfortable to read but it’s disturbing as well. At the same time men who are child abusers and sex offender are described in a sympathetic light — they hate themselves for what they do but they can’t help it (I understand these kinds of behaviors are addictive but there is no excuse for these people).
This book is long. Much too long.
I have read and enjoyed much longer books and expect to continue to do so. What makes this book so long is not the page count but the interminable crawl of words that are saying nothing. Or if they are they are too mystical for me to make sense of. There are long passages that are written like Cronin is imagining himself a scriptural chronologer of the future where he even slips into Biblical language. The problem is that these Biblical passages lack all of the lyrical language of the actual Bible while amplifying all of it’s opacity. Cronin’s prose doesn’t so much flow as rise up suddenly and kick you in the shins with sharp boots. (The Bible is a wonderful book with language that is beautiful in it’s flow and feel. It can be hard for modern readers to understand. Cronin is impossible to understand because he just string together words that he thinks he might have heard in Bible school somewhere without any thought to actual meaning.)
There’s supposed to be a third and final book.
Will I read it?
I honestly don’t know. After The Twelve (which isn’t about the Twelve at all, by the way) I don’t know if my mind can handle that much stumbling over rocky prose and numbing pain at blatant disregard for humanity in general.