Book Review: The Strain, Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan (2009)

January 15th, 2011 11:59 pm by Kelly Garbato

It’s a Nazi Vampire Plague, y’all!

Set in present-day New York City, The Strain follows Ephraim Goodweather – an epidemiologist with the CDC – as he races to stop the spread of an virus that essentially hijacks its host body, transforming human to vampire. (Nonhuman animals appear not to be affected, though this doesn’t preclude their consumption by vampires. Spoiler warning: the dog gets it!)

Transmitted via the exchange of bodily fluids (usually in the form of a “brutal” feeding frenzy as opposed to a more sophisticated and sexy neck bite), the virus is as old as the seven vampires – the Ancients – who are spread out among the “Old” and “New” Worlds. Kept under wraps by a tenuous truce between the Ancients for centuries, the virus is about to be unleashed upon humanity by a renegade vampire – the Dark One, Master, Sardu, The Thing – with the help of one especially evil, ambitious and self-involved human. (A billionaire, natch.)

Our hero “Eph” is accompanied by fellow CDC scientist Nora Martinez, along with a rag-tag team of unlikely experts, namely: Vasily Fet, an exterminator working for the City of New York and Abraham Setrakian, an elderly pawnshop owner and Holocaust survivor who has spent much of his life in pursuit of the Dark One.

I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, so I won’t go any further into plot details than this. One rave featured on the back cover describes it as “Bram Stoker meets Stephen King meets Michael Crichton”; I don’t know about Crichton, but if you’re a fan of Stephen King and/or modern-day vampire stories, most likely you’ll love The Strain. I’ve seen a number of complaints that the book itself is “strained” – that is, drawn out, tedious and much lengthier than need be. Co-authors Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan do spend quite a bit of time elaborating on the “science” behind the vampire plague, it’s true; the vampire parasite’s history, biology, anatomy and the like are described in almost-loving detail. However, this need not be a negative; if you prefer your science fiction and horror stories served with a whiff of scientific plausibility, you’re apt to appreciate the “medical mystery” aspects of The Strain.

As an aside, I found myself both touched and charmed by Abraham’s backstory (particularly the “bubbeh meiseh” that opens the first book in the trilogy). I also wanted to throttle the Barbour parents with my bare hands. Seriously, folks, you don’t leave your “family members” chained in the shed out back, even if they are “just dogs”; doubly so if you know that one of your neighbors has beaten them in the past. “Love”? More like neglect. Yuck.

See also: Milk addictions, Nazi monstrosities & long-suffering canines: Three things about The Strain. at POP! goes The Vegan.

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

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