Book Review: The Strain

One of the things wrong with the world today (and yes, I’m shaking my tiny fist as I write this, which is one reason I’m typing so slowly) is that you can’t use the phrase “it’s a vampire book” without some qualifying information. So, I must point out that The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan is less the “sparkly teen romance” kind of vampire book and more the “Aaah! Monsters are going to drink our blood!” kind. There’s blood, monsters, murder, horror, mutilation, and all that stuff. A lot of it, actually.

That being said, The Strain has some modern twists to the old vampire genre. It examines the vampire outbreak in New York City as a highly communicable disease that starts at one eerily darkened airliner on the JFK International Airport and spreads out to the population from there. The authors even go so far as to make one of the book’s two main heroes an epidemiologist from the Center for Disease Control, who strives to understand the plague in scientific and medical terms. The authors indulge this angle, considering the biological basis for the vampire condition and elaborating on how that kind of plague would spread.

There are also some references to the 9/11 attacks and how it changed the way in which New Yorkers respond to such large-scale catastrophies. I also enjoyed the creepy way in which the authors describe the very first onset of the plague, where people are dropping out of sight and everyone left knows that something is wrong, but isn’t quite sure how to react yet. It’s a great sense of impending doom.

Which is not to say, I assure you, that the book is without the typical horror schlock. We get lots of scenes of secondary and tertiary characters meeting their grisly ends, and there’s plenty of old school vampire lore at play as well –the second hero of the tale is a Jewish Holocaust survivor bent on revenge against the chief vampire and appropriately steeped in the benefits of silver, sunlight, and mirrors when dealing with the undead.

If anything, the repetitive scenes of horror and subjugation to the vampire disease became tedious, and I enjoyed the more CSI inspired bits of the book a lot more. So much so that my appraisal of the book dropped quite a bit when things devolved into a Hollywood-esque showdown (and yes, one of the authors is that Guillermo del Toro) with the big bad boss vampire instead of pursuing the medical crime drama vibe that had been built up earlier. I’m not sure I’ll be on board with the other two planned sequels or not; there’s just not that much that’s seems interesting to explore now.

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