Friday, June 17, 2011

Book Review: The Strain

The vampires in The Strain are nothing like Aidan McCollin
(Sam Witwer, Being Human). But that's surprisingly not disappointing...

Vampries have been made popular in the 21st century by Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series, regardless of what you think of it, it's true. Sparkly Edward Cullen is on many a teenage girl's wall, on t-shirts, backpacks, notebooks...

But before that there was Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and then of course, Anne Rice--famous for her vampire novels and her movie adaption of Interview with the Vampire, and even before that there was Bram Stoker's Dracula. The concept of a person returning from the dead as a blood sucking creature goes back to ancient times.

I love vampires and occasionally have lapses in judgment where I think it would pretty darn cool if vampires were running around in everyday life.

Before you jump to conclusions, possibly pass judgment and start to question my sanity, it is only because I've completely caught the vampire love bug.

Maybe the vampire isn't Edward Cullen but most vampires in TV shows or movies are attractive, brooding, tortured souls like-- Angel or Spike (Buffy and Angel), Mitchell or Aiden (Being Human) or Louis (Interview with a Vampire). I'm of the type to gravitate towards the vampire's character nine times out of 10. Forget the fact that everyone else might be rooting for the werewolf, the witch, the hunter or some other monster; I stick with my vampires--thank you very much.

Still want to be in love with a vampire, Bella?
The Strain sort of made me want to turn and run away from the vampires in this novel. Guillermo del Toro takes everything you know about traditional sunlight fearing, holy water cringing, wood through the heart staking vampires and turns it upside down. 

del Toro is famous for his work in films like Pan's Labyrinth, The Orphanage, the Hellboy series, and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. He is legendary for his creative imagination and ability to dream up entire worlds and creatures and make them appear entirely vivid and lifelike on film. He continues to work his magic between the pages of The Strain like only del Toro can. Co-writing with Chuck Hogan, the duo can't help but add their own spin on the origin of vampires.

The book sets the stage for the beginning of a suspenseful but violent trek through del Toro's world.


The prologue recalls the chilling tale of a giant, Jusef Sardu, the son of a Polish nobleman who "stood taller than any man." It is his height that causes him to be weak and frail, but he is known throughout the village as a gentle giant, taking pity on the poor and the sick and bringing treats and trinkets to the village children. 

The only one ashamed of Jusef's appearance is his father. Believing he can cure his only son's condition, he organizes a hunting trip with the Sardu men to hunt and kill a wolf. The wolf is a symbol of power in the book, both as a natural predator in the woods of Eastern Europe and in the Sardu family crest. Jusef's father believes that eating wolf meat will cure his son of his ailments. 

Jusef, his father, his cousins and uncles travel to Romania to find a wolf. They hunt for six weeks but are alarmed when members of the hunting party begin to disappear. Jusef, the last remaining member of the Sardu hunting party, ventures out to look for his family. He finds them in a nearby cave; none of them has survived what looks like a brutal animal attack. Jusef buries his family and vows to avenge their deaths or "die trying." He wanders deeper into the Romani woods but never returns...

Skip forward to September 2010.

A Boeing 777 en-route from Germany to the United States lands on the tarmac outside JFK Airport in New York. The plane is completely dead--window shades are drawn, lights are out, all communication with the tower has ceased-- the ground crews are at a complete loss for what to do.

Just as a general warning this video contains some language and frightening images.

The CDC is called in as a final desperate measure and it is here that we meet Dr. Ephraim (Eph) Goodweather, head of the CDC's Canary Project, a rapid-response team that investigates biological threats. Eph with his partner Dr. Nora Martinez don biohazard suits and do what they do best. They've already been told by the ground crew, who have done some investigating of their own, that everyone on the plane is dead.

Or maybe not...

Four people appear to have miraculously survived. They get the survivors out; quarantining them in the infectious disease ward of the hospital until they can determine that the seemingly airborne virus is stable and under control. All of the four surviving passengers seem perfectly fine, however, and demand to return home to their families. Eph, Nora and everyone else in the city soon discover that their survival is no miracle.

It isn't long before Eph and Nora realize that this deadly virus is much bigger than Manhattan, or New York as it quickly spreads to other cities in the U.S.--Chicago, Washington, St. Louis. In just two months it spreads to the entire world.


It would be the understandment of the year if I said I like this book, I love it! And even that seems to pale in comparison to how I really feel about this series. Let's just say if this book were a person I'd marry it... that's really how much I love it; and from the book trailer it's pretty easy to see why. 

As much as I love attractive, brooding, tortured-soul vampire. I love mindless, zombie-like, drone vampire even more. 

While the concept of people being turned into zombies via parasite or virus isn't new, it is a new concept for vampires. In traditional vampire movies and novels the host's body is taken over by a demon. del Toro's vampires are 'turned' when the host comes in contact with a small parasitic worm. The worm burrows into the person's body, wraps itself around the host's heart and quickly multiplies-- taking total control of their body and morphing it into its most simplistic form. Vampires are instinctive in this novel, and only the seven ancient vampires seem to be capable of thought. It's the kind of thing you're more likely to see with zombies but it really works here. 

While I'm not the biggest fan of Eph's character. The one thing that I do like about him is his normalcy. He's not a super-powered human. He's not part vampire. He's just your typical everyday guy, struggling to balance work and spending time with his thirteen-year-old son, Zach. He's the unlikely hero of the story and flawed in more ways than one, but he is willing to risk everything to save his ex-wife, her arrogant boyfriend, and his only son from the impending new threat of vampires.

Eph and Nora later meet Abraham Setrakian, a pawnshop owner/sometimes vampire hunter, and Vasily Fet, an exterminator, who prove to be the brains and muscle of the vampire hunting operation. Setrakian is probably my favorite character in the book. He's a tough old man and despite his age and heart trouble he is a knowledgeable and an essential weapon in the fight against the vampires.

The Strain reads like a good horror film. The kind of film that makes you rethink whether or not you want to walk all the way back to your parked car in that abandoned garage at 2 in the morning. After I finished reading the book, I literally sat on my couch for five minutes thinking about whether or not this could really happen. Granted my mind doesn't operate like the average, rational thinking person, but in theory if a zombie/vampire apocalypse did occur, I'm convinced this is how it would happen.


Book two in The Strain trilogy, The Fall, is now available. Look for The Night Eternal, the next and last book in The Strain trilogy October 25. 



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