The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Today I’m turning my pen towards another medium that’s been rather overlooked in recent years: the novel. As inevitable as it’s decline is, due to the evolving nature of mass media, a great possibility for creative world building still exists within the fibers of the printed page. After months of on-again/ off-again reading (unfortunate I do have the pre-requisite attention span of my generation) I finally completed “The Strain.” The first in a trilogy co-written by Chuck Hogan and cult film maker Guillermo Del Toro, The Strain follows the outbreak of a viscous strain of vampirism after a plane lands at JFK full of dead passengers and a mysterious, large wooden box as cargo. While fans of Guillermo Del Toro’s film might recognize the stylistic choices made with these vampires from those of his movie Blade II, The Strain offers a refreshingly grotesque portrayal of the often-romanticized horror icon. The monsters on display here are just that: monsters. They’re hairless, emaciated and in place of fangs they have cancerous retractable stinger that extends from their throats. Like the Blade films, while there are vaguely supernatural connotations to the vampires, they are approached primarily from a biological/ scientific standpoint.

This is most prominent in the choice protagonists. The lead male, Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather is a high ranking member of the CDC tasked with containing the possible biological disaster. Accompanying him is an ensemble cast following the multiple vantage points as the disease spreads throughout New York City. Nora Martinez is co-worker at the CDC with whom he shares tense romantic ties, unexplored due to the stresses of Eph’s custody battle with his ex-wife Kelly over their son Zack. As the biological disaster begins to shows the colors of war, Eph and Nora find themselves in league with Abraham Setrakian, a Van Helsing-esque Holocaust Survivor with past experience with the creatures he calls “strigoi.” Also joining the fray Is my favorite character Vasiley Fet, a rat exterminator employed by the city to investigate sudden surge in displaced rat populations in the city, specifically around the ground zero site as well as gang banger turned vampire slayer Gus Elizalde.

The story is not without it’s well worn story tropes and contrivances, Eph’s the divorce/ stepdad rival subplot being noticeably distracting. However plotting is well placed and builds suspense masterfully, structured very much like a cinematic thriller thanks to film background of it’s co-author. The prose occasionally veers towards the overly descriptive (but not to the mind numbing degree of Steven King or Dean Koontz), but the dialogue has good, natural rhythm to it. In its totality it is a solid piece of fiction and a very cool addition to popular vampire mythology. A television adaptation is currently in production to air this Summer, and I am truly excited to see Del Toro try his hand at the serialized format of the television series.

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