“All these people: they were trapped. And not merely by the wires that surrounded them. Physical barricades were nothing compared to the wires of the mind. What had truly imprisoned them was one another. Husbands and wives, parents and children, friends and companions: what they believed had given them strength in their lives had actually done the opposite…..Love had sealed their doom.”
The second book in Justin Cronin’s trilogy picks up five years after the end of the last novel, to the summer of 97 AV, then swiftly moves back to the year the plague overtook the country. New characters are introduced and we get an inside look at how regular people within the Zone deal with the horrific events that started in the Mountains outside Telluride. We also see what the government’s reaction is, from the point of view of Guilder (the author of the above quote), a despicable bureaucrat of the highest order. The decisions he makes and things he does set the stage for the remainder of the book and the great battle that is coming.
As we follow Amy, Peter, Alicia, Michael, Hollis, Sara and Greer we learn more about Kerrville and the Republic of Texas as well as the Homeland, a previously unheard of settlement in Iowa. Slowly, then all at once (as Cronin writes more than once) all of these people and Others come together on the Darkest Night of the Year and the world will never be the same.
I am still heavily invested in this story and the majority of the characters, though there were times when whole new groups of people in bygone times would appear and I would sigh wearily, “More people to keep track of?”. Luckily, these forays did flesh out the existing characters even more, deepening my commitment to them. And the emotional gut-punches just kept on coming. In the ultimate climax of the book, things felt a little too much like a Michael Bay movie at times, but that’s okay. I can’t fault Cronin for getting caught up in the moment, because I was right there with him.