Newest Review: ... creature from his grandmothers stories. Many years later, as an elderly pawnbroker, he may represent humanities last hope. Ephraim Good... more
A new strain of vampirism
The Strain - Guillermo del Toro
Member Name: Philanthropist
The Strain - Guillermo del Toro
Advantages: A gripping high quality read
Disadvantages: A slightly dissapointing ending (or build up to the ending should I say)
I first heard of The Strain when I came across a poster on the London Undergound early this year. An extract from the book referring to the surreal occurrence of an aeroplane full of corpses landing at JFK airport as well as Guillermo Del Toro's name written in big chunky letters got me intrigued. The heralded Mexican movie director responsible for two of my favourite fantastical films Pan's Labyrinth (2006) and Blade II (2002) had teamed up with the more experienced author Chuck Hogan to release his debut novel. The Strain is the genesis of a fresh new vampiric horror trilogy that breeds fear from its modern take on an old formula.
Flight 753's unprecedented landing serves as The Strain's curtain raiser. When this arrival from Berlin suddenly dies for no apparent reason and after an undisturbed flight, the mystery compounds as it is understood that all the passengers are dead...at least at the time. Dr Ephraim Goodweather, head of the Canary Project, a biological threats response team is drafted in to investigate. He finds four survivors but this seemingly good piece of news soon takes a dark twist. The survivors go awol, corpses begin to disappear and a mysterious coffin found onboard the aeroplane also vanishes. Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian has been preparing for as well as dreading this moment all his life - the return of an ancient evil ready to raise hell in the present. Fully aware of what is happening, Setrakian finds Goodweather and explains how a terrible virus is spreading. One which will transform all the people of Manhattan into blood-thirsty vampires within one week with the country and the world to follow suit soon after. The horror show begins and a thrilling race against time commences as these two men battle to save the human race.
The Strain borrows elements from vampire tradition namely from Bram Stoker's Dracula. Many comparisons can be made. Aeroplane Flight 753 serves as the Demeter, while the heroic Setrakian plays Van Helsing and the books main antagonist, The Master is the obvious choice for Count Dracula. The inspiration is quite clear. However, The Strain offers enough freshness to breathe new life into an aging formula. A mesh of history, science and horror see the novel triumph. Vampires are no longer classy caped Goths but zombie-like beings infected by 'blood worms' who develop grotesque retractable 'stingers' in their mouths to feed with (Blade II style). The Strain is meticulous. It uses this skill to full effect when implanting gory macabre imagery in the reader's mind. Del Toro's knack for creating memorable netherworld creatures doesn't fail to come to play here. The book runs at a superb Hollywood blockbuster pace also, despite its scrupulous storytelling. What starts with ominous mystery ends in full blown horror and as soon as the ball gets rolling you find yourself accelerating through the increasingly terrifying events faced by The Strain's protagonists. You just can't put it down.
Del Toro and Hogan have taken the best bits of traditional vampire tales, evolved them and added nice touches of their own to create this believable modern day horror show. Through gory description, pulsating pace and mounting tension to a point of impending doom, The Strain shows readers a world of fear and trepidation. The ending wasn't quite perfect (I won't reveal why) but its open end has definitely left me wanting more and sets the scene nicely for the sequel (which should be with us this September). Vampires have enjoyed the limelight throughout fictional history - The Strain ensures that their future is also equally bright.
Summary: An immersive, riveting gorefest that stands as a must for any horror fan