"The news isn't all the news, Jonah. Not by a long shot. It's just what reporters want to tell you about. Riots come and go, wars come and go, but under the tumult, day after day, century after century, millions of people are doing nice things for one another, making sacrifices, mostly small things, but it's all those little kindnesses that hold civilization together, all those people who live quiet lives and never make the news."
-Sylvia Bledsoe, Chapter 16
I think that The City is a good gate-way Dean Koontz book. There aren't any over-the-top horror elements, and it actually isn't a horror novel. I actually don't know how to classify this book. Mystery? There are super-natural elements, so I don't know if it classifies as a mystery. And besides. The main character isn't a preppy girl detective, and he isn't a hard-drinking womanizer either, so it can't be a mystery book. ;)
The City follows roughly three years of the life of a young African-American boy named Jonah who lives in the 1960's. The book is actually narrated by his 59 year old self. Jonah has a gift for piano (but isn't prideful about it since he knows that all talent is a gift given to us from God.), and lives with his Mother, Sylvia. His Father, Tilton, abandoned them years ago but still pops up to make trouble.
One day, Jonah meets a mysterious lady who tells him that she is the soul of the City made flesh, and she gives him little hints that he needs to somehow stop a gang of anarchists, and I'd tell you more, but that would involve spoilers.
Describing the plot makes it sounds really lame (that's the case with most books. They sound ridiculous until you read them and judge otherwise.). The book is slower paced than most of Dean Koontz' books (one reason why reviewers on various sites don't like it), but I thought it was amazing how much information was packed into the first hundred pages. It wasn't fast-paced, no. It was slow-paced, but there's a difference between slow-paced and plain old turgid. Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson is turgid. Nothing happens and 100 pages in I still don't know the characters. The City is slow-paced. The plot moves at a moderato, walking pace, but is able to hold your attention because what's going on is interesting.
There's a lot of Christian (Catholic, to be specific) stuff in this book (that's another reason reviewers didn't like it), and while non-Catholics might find it a heavy-handed attempt to evangelize them, I think it's great to read a book where Catholics aren't mean hypocrites. Towards the end, especially, there's a hint of Marian influence that I didn't see coming out of left-field. Then again, I'm not usually any good at sensing plot twists in books. Especially when they're really subtle, like this one.
I found the characters very likeable in this book. My favorite was of course, Jonah himself, but I also liked Sylvia, Grandpa Teddy, Malcolm, Amalia, heck. Pretty much anyone who wasn't evil. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I almost cried at some scenes with Mr. Yoshioka. This book brought to mind something that I read in C. S. Lewis. You have never met an 'ordinary' person. Everyone has their own struggles, triumphs, and story. If they seem ordinary and boring to you then you just don't know their story yet.
The Verdict: A
This book was very good, and if you're considering reading a Dean Koontz book then I'd start out with this one. Or Odd Thomas. But this one has less horror stuff, and it's a relatively calm and philosophical story. In short, I feel like this story is about how even though the rest of the world might seem to be in turmoil and chaos, there will always be good people doing their best to be kind to others and lead gratifying lives.