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The lost art of story telling
The Strain - Guillermo del Toro
Member Name: broxi3781
The Strain - Guillermo del Toro
Advantages: Unique book, with a touch of a storyteller's gift.
Disadvantages: Drags down in a few places, loses the momentum and oral stroy would have to maintain.
I didn't buy this book with particularly high hopes. I bought it because I got a very good price £2.12 delivered from amazon - and spending so much on Christmas right now - I really don't have anything left over for books for myself. But as soon as I opened the first page my hopes began to rise - quite high in fact. The reason for my high hopes is that it very quickly becomes obvious that at least one of the authors seems to have the gift of a storyteller. You may feel that all writers are storytellers, and I'll admit they do tell stories, they may be story tellers, but not storytellers. A storyteller to me, is one who can weave a story with words to a live audience. Someone who passes down the stories of their family as well as making up stories as they go along. I was blessed to have been born into a family of storytellers, but now that we have so many other forms of entertainment - this art is disappearing.
The book begins with a story told by a proper storyteller, the grandmother of one of the main characters, Abraham Setrakian. She tells him a bubbeh meiseh - a grandmother story, and in a time before television, when simple villagers in what I take to be Poland would be unlikely to even have a radio. Stories were the only form of entertainment but is this story true or woven only to entertain a child? The story tells of Sardu the giant , crippled by his own height, who returns from a hunting trip to Romania as something different altogether. The giant Sardu who searches the villages at night with his walking stick making the dreaded tick tick tick sound. As Abraham grows into adulthood - he finds far more human monsters as a prisoner in Treblinka, but he also crosses path with this creature from his grandmothers stories. Many years later, as an elderly pawnbroker, he may represent humanities last hope.
Ephraim Goodweather is a man of science. A top scientist with the C.D.C. , he isn't one to listen to the tales of a crazy of old man at first. But nothing and science can describe what he finds when a 747 jet lands safely at J.F.K., but without a single living soul, barring four comatose and near death survivors. Everything about this event defies scientific logic and things are about to get far worse. Ephraim is accompanied by Nora Martinez, his coworker - whom he also happens to be dating - but he is also desperate to keep his son and ex wife safe once he realises the magnitude of the disaster before them. The higher ups seem to be brushing him off and he becomes powerless to stop a plague that threatens to engulf the entire human race.
Two more characters will feature heavily in this story, and like the first two they are very well crafted, so that each takes on a complete personality. The first is Augustin Elizade, a gang banger recently paroled for manslaughter if I remember correctly, he is simply known as Gus. While Gus appears to be a bit of a thug, he has a tattoo to the effect of I am what I am - which sums his character up well. Growing up as he did - the odds were he would join a gang and the life they live is one of violence. But he has honour as well, and a sense of decency as well as courage that goes well beyond a gang bangers bravado. He is in fact a very like able wee thug. The final character to come into play is Vassily Fet, a huge man with a Russian name who earns his living trapping rats in sewers of New York. Vassily is a born soldier, though he may never has suspected this before. The crisis brings out the best in him and creates a hero of a man who most likely would have lived life unnoticed in a quieter era.
The bad guys are not quite as well rounded, each being pure unadulterated evil. The Master Sardu is evil incarnate, and his henchmen an undead Nazi and former concentration camp commandant, and wealthy American industrialist are completely without any trace of redeeming qualities. These are not cute or romantic vampires in any sense, they are cruel, sadistic and rather more disgusting than most with some fairly graphically written scenes.
I will not go too deeply into the plot. This is billed as vampire trilogy, and it does keep some aspects of vampire lore, but the authors have made a beast truly their own here. Other aspects of this might resemble the more popular zombie apocalypse books which have recently flooded the market, although this is far more expertly written than most of these. There were a few slow parts, and I nearly deducted a star as I felt the authors spent far too much time on the perspective of too many people when the solar eclipse, or occultation as the authors call it. At this point I was growing terribly bored with the book, and there are other sections where it just seems to be lacking something. I appreciate that some of this is setting the scene though, and this book must do most of the work to create the atmosphere and setting for the next two volumes. But after careful consideration, I have gone with 5 stars.
I feel this story has a freshness to it - the haven't just rehashed all the old cliches, they have created something new and different. I also like the fact that the main characters are very well developed. A good author creates characters in such a way that the reader feels as if they know each one, perhaps have known them most of their life. The authors succeed in this very well with most of the characters, although some like Nora and the Mrs Goodweather are more or less props for other characters. I especially like the charatcer of Abraham Setrakian, I found having the main hero be an elderly man an interesting twist. His main power is in his knowledge - but he gets into a few action hero scenes as well. But the main reason for giving this five stars, it the fact that very often does have something of the air of a storyteller, there is something different here from the rafts of ordinary books I have read, and that alone makes it worth reading. It reminds me of sitting around a table listening to stories.
As mentioned before, this book is part of a trilogy. I have some series where each book can stand on it's own, but this is not the case with this book. It does end with things very much unfinished and unresolved. Reading one book in this series is rather like stopping halfway through, or more accurately one third of the way through on a complete story. I'm not sure I'd be too thrilled with this if I had to wait years for next ones to come out, but as all three have been released, and I have read the second, and will have the third for Christmas, i am happy enough.
Finally - some of you may recognise the lead author's name Guillermo De Toro. Apparently he is famous director best known for Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy. This did not affect my decision to purchase this at all, and I would not automatically assume that because a person could direct he could write, but in this case it has worked out quite well. Of course this may well be due to the talents of the other writer here Chuck Hogan. This is a book I could easily picture as film though, and perhaps De toro has had some influence on that.
Summary: A very enjoyable book from a very talented author.