Usually, I like to reserve books from the horror genre for October, where I have a scary Halloween celebration the entire month by reading tales of terror and fright. But ever since its release in June, I’ve listened to friends talk about The Strain and its new take on the vampire trope. Unable to wait even a month longer to read it for myself, I grabbed the book and prepared to be scared.
Well…it wasn’t necessarily scary. But it wasn’t the same old boring vampire crap that has come about as a result of Twilight, True Blood and their ilk, either. Treating vampirism like something repulsive and unwanted is a bold approach in these days of Team Edward, but I’ll be damed if Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan didn’t pull it off.
The story has an excellent set-up. A jumbo jet arrives in New York City and lands safely, but as it taxis down the runway, it suddenly shuts down completely. Power is off, and the air traffic controller can’t raise the pilots. When the ground crew goes out to investigate, they discover that everyone onboard the plane has died – and thus, the Centers for Disease Control are called in. Yes, there is a virus, or some sort of disease afflicting the people on the plane. But as you can probably guess, it’s a disease that lets its victims seem alive even after death.
I did think there were many things the book did well. There was a constantly building sense of dread, and there is some solid character development done. Overall themes are carried through even to the smallest story line. And as I mentioned before, rather than having people pine to become vampires, everyone who comes into contact with the afflicted knows instantly that this is a fate worse than death. There’s no romanticizing the Undead here.
Those of you who are familiar with the name will recognize author del Toro from his directorial work on films like Pan’s Labyrinth, the Hellboy movies, and The Devil’s Backbone. He has a real talent for creating fantastical worlds and following through with imagery even if it’s unappealing. He previously ventured into the world of vampires with the movie Blade II, and the vampires in The Strain do indeed bear a bit of similarity to some of the creatures in that movie (especially with their mouths and the way they feed. I felt like del Toro had already drawn the picture for me).
I do sort of wish that del Toro and Hogan had avoided stuff like having a grizzly, wise old vampire hunter who knew all the secrets. It seems like the story could have been significantly more tense if the main characters had needed to uncover the disease’s source for themselves. Also, the book does end rather suddenly, and isn’t really a self-contained tale. There’s definitely a “to be continued” aspect to it, which is fine and leaves the reader wanting more, but doesn’t really allow the book to become an instant classic in its own right.
I do recommend The Strain, though. It’s a quick, engaging page-turner and I’m certainly anticipating the follow-up, because the end of the first book definitely sets up something huge. Bring on “The Fall”!