The Strain

The StrainWritten By: Guillermo Del Toro, Chuck Hogan
Grade: C-

The Strain is a vampire novel brought to us by the collaborative efforts of director/producer, Guillermo Del Toro and thriller author, Chuck Hogan. It seems that Del Toro set up the basic idea and possibly certain set ups in the story while Hogan composed the bulk of the work. The book seems to be void of Del Toro’s touch of artistry and meaning even if his basic idea of a vampire apocalypse through an airplane of the infected was promising.

The book is overloaded with countless numbers of stories, but the basic one starts with a plane that lands in New York’s JFK airport with all of the passengers dead. Of course, they aren’t really dead, just undead. The airport officials eventually call epidemiologists, Ephraim and Nora, who are part of the rapid response team. They take many precautions and wait it out quite some time before acting, but once they do they discover that everyone inside the plane appears to be dead and don’t have pulses. However, there is no struggle detected from any one of them. To their surprise there does seem to be four survivors; a rock star, the plane’s captain, a strong willed lawyer, and businessman with a very sheltered family.

Eph and Nora try to figure out what has happened, but science and reason seem to be failing them. All of the victims seem to be drained of all of their blood and only a small mark is made on each one of them. None of the survivors are able to remember anything that happened on the plane. Before long the dead bodies disappear. There was a large coffin shaped box on the plane that disappeared as well. Eph and Nora aren’t aware of this, but the survivors begin turning in to vampires before long. The symptoms start with those of the basic flu, which turn in to a massive burning in their throats. The thirst overwhelms them and before long they are sucking the blood of their loved ones as well as infecting others and spreading the virus.

Eph and Nora have no idea what any of this means until they meet an old Jewish pawn broker, Setrakian who seems to know things about the bodies that they can barely believe themselves. He is able to prove to them that this is a vampire epidemic. They try to kill all of the vampires that they can. Setrakian went around the world chasing the master that started all of this. He uses his knowledge along with a rat exterminator’s knowledge of trapping vermin to try to stop the vampire virus from taking over the world by going up against the master himself.

The biggest problem with The Strain is the format. Every 2 or 3 pages it changes the character that the story is told through. The book is overpopulated with characters, only a couple that I can say I honestly cared about by the ending. Even once you are over half way through the book, there are still new characters being introduced, some that don’t even appear again or have any type of major role in the book. Another issue is a few of them aren’t actually really introduced that well to you to give you any sense of knowing who they are. So it just seems like all of these different random people with all of these side stories, detracting from the main one. You don’t know them and don’t have any reason to feel for them. It would be one thing if they had a dozen or so characters and split them all in to chapters. At least then we could spend a somewhat substantial amount of time hearing from each storyline or viewpoint. Once you did start to feel something or get in to one story you were thrown in to a vastly different story, usually keeping you away from that one you left for quite some time before coming back to it, if you ever did. It seems like I would have liked the story a lot better if it would have been told through Eph and Nora’s view since that seemed to be the most recognizable storyline throughout the book. Even an impartial, all knowing narrator would have been better, giving us background and understanding when the story jumped characters.

Guillermo Del Toro originally pitched The Strain as a TV series, which would have worked a lot better given the format. Majority of the wide range of characters we spend time with, we really aren’t given too much of their thoughts that couldn’t be shown through a TV show. The visuals particularly towards the end fighting scenes we get as well as the few vampire attacks that are described would be much more thrilling on screen. You can tell Del Toro used a format that is better suited for a visual medium and put it in to print. All of the 2-3 page sections are titled with location, fitting for scenes of a show. In a show, in order to get to several character’s storylines, we can’t spend too much time with each one. With a book the benefit should be to go with the main characters all throughout their adventure and feel some sort of a connection to them. The Strain really didn’t take advantage of this opportunity as much as it could have.

The Strain is a very slow moving read, especially towards the beginning. It takes them quite a while to even investigate what’s on the plane let alone all of the time that is spent collecting clues and in the end having no idea what they actually mean. Majority of the book is mostly void of actual vampires, particularly the fury and blood lust that goes along with them. There are very few surprises throughout the story. The book is mostly science and our scientists searching for clues that land them searching in circles. This becomes quite frustrating for the reader since as soon as we pick up the book we know that the passengers are vampires. At first there is some suspense in questioning how the other characters will find out. Before long, it just gets irritating, waiting so long for the main characters to catch up to where the reader is from page one. There are a few vampire attacks, but most of them are actually more implied as an afterthought rather than described in the moment they are happening.

It isn’t really towards the end that it feels like a vampire book. There are some satisfying moments towards the middle where we get to witness the victims turning. It’s fascinating in that moment when they are forced to realize what they are becoming, while their loved ones still are in that numb denial. There are a few great fight sequences with the turned vampires as well as the master ancient vampire against the scientist, historian, and rat exterminator turned vampire hunters. Again, this would have been better to see on screen then simply read about this action. It is a little on the unrealistic side that when going against the master, supposedly the very face of evil itself, they are barely scratched aside from the elderly Setrakian. This is easy enough to look past as these last moments of the book are by far the best, finally dealing with the beast we were after. The Master is the most compelling character in the book. He fought through mind games and deception and was a very strong all powerful creature. I wish there would have been more time spent with him. There seems like there could be some gripping potential there. The Strain ended on a major cliffhanger, setting up the next book in the trilogy. Still, I can’t say that it had me anticipating the next book all that much.

Kelsey Zukowski is a horror actress/ writer and internationally published alternative model who gravitates towards dark, complex material full of thematic exploration.

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