Friday, September 3, 2010

Book Review: The Strain

Whoa. Does that title say BOOK review? Yup, you better recognize. The Girl Who Loves Horror can also read. And she likes reading a lot. Lately she's been somewhat obsessed with the highly popular Swedish books, the Millennium series, which includes The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Yes, these are all awesome books that you should read right away, and no, the titles were not the inspiration for this blogger's name.

But I digress. This book review is about the first book in another trilogy, The Strain, co-authored by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo Del Toro. You know, that totally awesome movie producer/director who I am a little in love with can really spin a good yarn. Other novels that will follow in this series are The Fall and The Night Eternal.

The Strain is the tale of a coming apocalypse to the United States in the form of vampires unlike any we have ever seen or read about before. A plane landing at JFK literally goes dead on the tarmac, all but four of the passengers and crew are deceased and there is a strange coffin full of dirt in the cargo hold not listed on the manifest. Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, a viral expert from the CDC, and Nora, his co-worker (and woman he's become rather close to after being separated from his wife) are the heads of the investigation to find out what happened. But when the bodies of the deceased suddenly go missing and one survivor almost kills them, they realize that they have much more on their hands than a viral outbreak. A strange old man named Setrakian enters the mix, who seems to know exactly what's going on and how it will escalate. He has a long history with these creatures that the humans are turning into and this may be his one opportunity to destroy the thing that has plagued the darkness for centuries.

The Strain is a vampire book, but this is a truly unique take on the vampire lore. Some elements of the classic mythology are still there, but with a little twist, probably the biggest being that vampirism is treated much more like a virus or parasite that progresses in stages and physically mutates the infected. Nods to the magnum opus of vampire fiction, Dracula, are present. The plane, for instance, is parallel to how Dracula arrived in London aboard a ship - in a coffin of dirt, feeding on the crew members. You can still identify a vamp with a mirror, but in The Strain their reflections appear shaky in the mirror rather than having no reflection at all.

A pretty good rendering of what I imagined the vampires to look like.
The physical look of the vampire in this novel is also drastically different than what has been seen before (aside from the assorted vampire-beasts in movies like From Dusk Till Dawn). Pale, yes, and dirty from sleeping in the dirt but no fangs. Nope, the twin fangs of a traditional vampire have been replaced by a stinger that protrudes from the mouth, underneath the tongue. The jaw hyper-extends and the stinger slithers out, attacking the neck region in order to infect the victim's bloodstream more directly. Because even when a vampire has been beheaded (the preferred form of extermination in this novel) there are still little wriggling parasitic worms in their blood which must be burned by a UV lamp.

The old professor-turned-New York City pawnbroker Setrakian mentions the various stages that the vampires go through after their initial infection. Each day they mutate more, becoming more strong and even losing their vital organs and sex organs, as they are not needed. I'm guessing that the regular vampires all end up looking something like the Master vampire, but perhaps we won't truly find out until the sequel comes out in October.

You rule, buddy.
All in all, I rather enjoyed the book. There are some cliche characters, like Eph's ex-wife's new hubby being the unbelieving loser who by default gets everyone else in trouble. Besides Eph, Nora, and Setrakian, another person to join the vampire hunting team is an exterminator named Vasily Fet (where the hell did they come up with these names?). Fet's character makes sense for the story, though; it's something I wouldn't have thought of that pertains to vampires. Fet figures out that there is something going on in the city from the strange behavior of the rats, which, again, makes sense for the story, seeing as how the vampires must hide underground to avoid sunlight. He is a funny character who is accepting of the others in the novel and seems to be fiercely loyal to these people he just met.

The main character Eph, has had family problems in the past, which includes long hours from his demanding job and alcoholism. His adolescent son Zack is his life and is most likely the motivating factor behind his determination to end the vampire plague. Other characters are introduced that won't pop up again until the sequel, when we'll finally see what their importance to the vampires is.

Oh, so that's Chuck Hogan.
This novel is only a part of what will be a much larger and drawn out story, but it has interested me enough to find out how the final battle will take place and who will come out on top. Anyone who knows my taste knows that I have somewhat of an aversion to vampire stories (aside from Buffy and Angel) but this one was quite interesting to read. The vampires are a disgusting plague that turn their victims into something that resembles both vampires and zombies, really. They are not beautiful, sparkly, or romantic, but rather revolting and violent.

There are hints of a big war in the coming books. The Master that arrives on the plane in NYC is only one of seven ancient master vampires still around, three of which are already in the New World (i.e. maybe next door to you!). This master that entered the US was supposed to stay in the Old World, which angers the three ancients. How will this tiny team of vampire hunters take on ancient evil vampires? Guess we'll have to see...

Sidenote for book geeks: The new dimensions on paperback novels suck. They may look skinnier but are actually only bigger length-wise, about an extra half inch tall. This is supposed to help save paper, but if that's the truth, why did they jack the price up $3? Paperback prices used to be $6.99 or $7.99; now the average price I'm seeing is $9.99. Not happy about that.

1 comment:

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