Review: “The Strain” by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

Title: The Strain
Authors: Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan
Series: The Strain Trilogy #1
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: HarperCollins, 2009

I read The Strain for the first time immediately after it was released, back when I was in school. I absolutely loved it, but somehow missed the memo when the second and third books in the trilogy came out. Well, a recent trip to Half-Price Books netted me the entire trilogy, and one of the groups I’m a member of on Goodreads decided to do it as their monthly group-read, so I finally got around to picking it back up! The tagline hypes it as Bram Stoker meets Stephen King meets Michael Crichton, and I think that’s pretty accurate. Highly recommended!

Our story begins with an airliner, dead on the tarmac after landing. Complete systems shutdown, no power, complete blackout, and not a peep from the passengers. When they finally manage to get inside, it’s discovered that every single person on board is dead, save for three barely-conscious survivors. The public fears a cataclysmic outbreak, but the CDC is quick to assure them that things are under control. Doctor Ephraim Goodweather is not so certain. Neither is Abraham Setrakian, a Jewish pawn-shop owner and Holocaust survivor with an unbelievable secret. And when the dead passengers of the dead plane disappear from the morgue, it becomes clear that the nightmare is far from over….

The Strain takes vampires and makes them scary again, pure and simple. Tired of your vampires being sparkly and angst-ridden? The bloodsuckers you find here are monsters, pure and simple. What’s more, they are presented in such a way that their condition is almost scientifically feasible. This tale is plausible without large suspensions of disbelief, which is more than can be said for most vampire novels. I greatly enjoyed it both times I’ve read it, which is saying something. The prose is incredibly cinematic and descriptive, very evocative. Apparently del Toro originally conceived this as a television series before teaming up with Hogan to write it as a trilogy of novels when none of the networks would bite. The plot is perhaps a bit predictable, and the characters perhaps a bit too stereotypical for some peoples’ taste (I see these accusations a lot in other reviews, anyway), but this didn’t really hamper my enjoyment. Another oft-criticized element is the dead plane opening–apparently that’s been done already several times, and is seen as derivative. What del Toro is actually doing here, far from ripping off Fringe or another author, is paying homage to the original Dracula novel and the title character’s arrival in England on a lifeless ship, every passenger and crewmember dead and eaten. I appreciated this. I think a lot of people missed the reference.

CONTENT: Some R-rated language, especially from the gangbanger character. A lot of vampire violence, fairly gory, as well as dissection and autopsy sequences, plus the inevitable vampire-slaying scenes that can also get pretty gory. Some sexual content, not usually too explicit aside from some past-tense references. No occult content, as these vampires are played for a purely scientific effect.

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