Authors: Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
It's not every day that two well known names team up to write a novel. Even more rare is to find a novel about vampires these days that is truly in the horror genre. How does the first book of their trilogy measure up to this horror reader's expectations?
The Strain follows Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, an investigator for the CDC, as he tries to make sense of a devastatingly lethal outbreak surfacing in New York City. It all begins when an airliner lands at the airport with all of its lights off, the shades all pulled down, and everyone on board dead. Eph quickly learns that these individuals aren't deceased, but infected with a pathogen that turns them into blood sucking monsters. Each night, the contagion spreads throughout the city. Together with his CDC partner, a city exterminator, and a mysterious old pawn broker, Eph finds that they are on their own against a city full of vampires and a government conspiracy.
The Strain is an impressive mix of classical horror and science fiction. The vampires are created by the introduction of a pathogen into an human's blood stream when they are attacked by one of the undead. Because of this, and because the main characters work for the Centers for Disease Control, much of the book takes on a "cop drama" feel as they try to sort out the ultimate cause of the disease and how it is spread. Sprinkled throughout are descriptions of the vampires feeding, which are truly horrific.
The strongest point of this book is the character development. Two of the major characters have large back stories that really makes you root for them. Eph is fighting to keep his son safe and the elderly Setrakian is trying to avenge the people he lost decades ago. Even the victims of the vampires are all unique and colorfully depicted, something I didn't expect and was pleasantly surprised by.
I also loved the subtle nods to classic vampire lore that Del Toro and Hogan weave into their novel. Many age-old myths (aversion to sunlight, inability to cross water, no reflection in a mirror, etc) are either incorporated or debunked as old wives tales. Even the novel's opening scene, where a plane lands with everyone on board dead, is adapted from a scene in Bram Stoker's Dracula. I'm happy that the authors recognized where their novel came from, and acknowledged its influences.
One thing that I wasn't exactly happy about was the depiction of the vampires. I know that the authors wanted to get as far away from the "suave, romantic" vampires that plague literature lately, but I think they went too far. The vampires are autonomous, shambling monsters that think of nothing other than spreading their disease. Throughout most of the novel I felt like I was reading a book about zombies. And although that isn't a bad thing in and of itself ("are vampires really that different from zombies?" you ask me incredulously), I think there is something much more scary about an enemy who is craft and intelligent. For the most part, these vampires are just target practice for anyone with a silver sword or UV light.
With that being said, The Strain definitely lives up to the hype, and makes me look forward to the rest of the trilogy.