Tag Archives: Twilight

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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Review: “American Vampire, Volume I” by Scott Snyder, Stephen King, & Rafael Albuquerque

Title: American Vampire Volume I
Writers: Scott Snyder & Stephen King
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Series: American Vampire (Volume I, Issues #1-5)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2010

Are you a “Twi-Hard?” Then you really have very little reason to be reading my reviews of anything vampire-related, for one thing, and probably have a vastly-greater tolerance for crappy writing. You probably won’t want to read this review. I’ve said it before (though I don’t believe I’ve said it in any of these reviews): immortal beings who sparkly are not vampires but a particularly nasty breed of fairy. If I’m being charitable, perhaps a vampire-infected breed of fairy–but a fairy, nonetheless. Vampires are an incredibly rich subject matter for storytelling, allowing you to wrestle with themes of immortality, good VS. evil, inner demons, all kinds of stuff. A conflicted vampire, ala Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Angel? Sure. Walking in sunlight? Dracula does that in the original novel, so I’m flexible on this count. Sparkling? That’s just wrong. Sneaking into a girl’s room to watch her sleep? That’s just creepy, and I don’t mean the kind of creepy one should find in a vampire novel. (Want some fun? Find a YouTube video of Robert Pattinson discussing Twilight. He hates it!) My favorite apraisal of Twilight comes from an interview where the reviewer asked Stephen King what he thought of the book, given his praise of J.K. Rowling and the fact that some people were comparing Twilight and Harry Potter. Mr. King responded in a very matter-of-fact manner: “Stephanie Meyer cannot write for $#!^.” I’m less rigid in my ideas of what vampire stories are aloud to do than King is–I suspect Angel would stick in his craw almost as badly as Edward Cullen–but given that review I was fairly certain I was not in for yet another Twilight knock-off when I picked up the first volume of American Vampire . I was not disappointed.

American Vampire is a Vertigo series conceived by Scott Snyder, with the first volume (issues #1-5) written by Snyder and the legendary Stephen King, and drawn by Rafael Albuquerque. The first collection forms two stories told in alternating chapters, one set in 1925 Los Angeles, the other beginning in the 1880s and detailing the origin of Skinner Sweet, Old West outlaw-turned-vampire. Snyder writes the 1925 story, telling the story of Pearl Jones, a wannabe-actress and newly-minted pawn in an old feud between Skinner Sweet and the old school of vampires–European nobility of breeding and money. King writes the origin story based on Snyder’s outlines. Sweet is the first of a new breed of vampire, and the first vampire conceived on American soil. Sweet’s strain of vampirism doesn’t follow the old rules. He can walk in the daylight, may even be strengthened by it, and seems impervious to silver and garlic. The vampires of this series are savage animals, and while they may at times be sympathetic protagonists we are never allowed to forget how monstrous they are just below the surface. I’m not really all that well versed in art, but I will say that Albuquerque’s work here is very good. He captures the feel of the Old West and the savagery of the characters quite well. I’m not sure if King’s involvement goes beyond this first volume (UPDATE: it does not), but nevertheless I definitely intend to continue reading this series!

Content: This is a Vertigo book, so very much intended for an adult audience. There is a lot of violence, very savage and vividly rendered. This is a vampire book, what did you expect? The language is definitely R-rated, and there is a bit of sexual content. A bit of nudity too, but that part is non-sexual. (It’s a corpse, if you must know. Don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t find that arousing….)

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