REVIEW: "The Strain" and "The Fall", by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan.

Okay... so my Monday review is happening on a Tuesday this week. I have no decent excuse other than Dragon Age II has me hooked. Oops! This week's review is another two-for-one deal as I'll be looking at the first two books in the Del Toro/Hogan vampire trilogy. The third is coming out this year and I can't wait!

First of all, let me confess my adoration for Guillermo Del Toro. Pan's Labyrinth is one of my favourite movies of all time and when I found out that its director had co-written a vampire trilogy, I felt all shiny inside! I knew that Del Toro and Hogan wouldn't be presenting me with any more angst-ridden, heart-of-gold-but-terribly-scarred vamps that have become so popular. Don't get me wrong, I actually quite like the Twilight books! I'm just sick to death of the whole fan-girl obsession that it has ensued. I don't care if you're "Team Edward" or "Team Jacob". I really, really don't. How about you all join "Team Shut-The-Hell-Up"? I'm not bitter...

No. Del Toro and Hogan pay homage to the original terror that the vampire myth began with. The Strain begins with the haunting image of a Boeing 777 on the runway of JFK Airport. Nobody is communicating from it, the lights are out and the shutters are down. At this point we are introduced to the hero of the story: Dr Ephraim Goodweather. On some levels Eph's character is somewhat typical: he's a brilliant scientist whose genius turned him to alcohol and away from his wife. All he wants is to gain custody of his son and live happily ever after. Typical in outline, but Eph is rounded and his frustration with the powers that be will have you empathising to a degree that will make your blood itch.

Book One, The Strain, deals with vampirism as a disease. The Boeing 777 carried a coffin full of dirt... but the body is missing. Jusef Sardu should be in that coffin. And yes, Jusef Sardu is a vampire. A bad ass vampire who has no desire to be loved or understood or turned into some boy-band lookalike wannabe... Sardu just wants blood. Blood and power.

All but three of the passengers on the Boeing are dead, pale, and bloodless. As soon as the few survivors are let out into the world, life as we know it is doomed, because each of them carries the disease. Del Toro and Hogan envisage vampirism as a parasitic invader of the body. It acts like the cordyceps fungi: a fungus which can control its hosts in order to get food for itself. In this case, the vampiric disease takes over the human hosts in order to get blood and continued contagion.

So how does Eph hope to save the world and, of course, his family and friends from the inevitable destruction of mankind? With the help of Van Helsing of course! Except his name isn't Van Helsing, it's Abraham Setrakian. The old, wise pawn-shop owner who has a long history with Sardu. He is the one who guides Eph to the conclusion which needs to be made: a virus is spreading throughout New York. That virus is vampirism.

I won't say too much about The Fall as I don't want to be too spoilerific. So, I'll keep it short. In book two, mankind's "fall" is highlighted in two ways. First there is the obvious fall into the hands of the disease. As soon as those three survivors went home to their families, the disease spread. Then to friends and neighbours. Then those friends and neighbours went home the their families, friends and neighbours. The dominoes just keep falling. The second fall is one which has already happened. The world might be doomed because of the virus, but it's allowed to happen because of the greed and corruptability of some of those in power in the book. This isn't dealt with in a heavy handed way...but it will leave you gritting your teeth in rage and frustration as only a good book can.

The third book in the trilogy is out this year thank goodness! I'm on the edge of my sofa to find out how and if the world can be saved. I'm rooting for the characters and mourning them already as it just seems so hopeless! I thoroughly recommend you pick these up, especially if you like the good old SCARY vampire stories. Oh! And if you liked Justin Cronin's The Passage I think you'll love this. Cronin wrote the beginning and the end of the world war with vampires, but he didn't go into much detail about the middle (I guess his book was over 1000 pages so we won't blame him for this).

Del Toro and Hogan create suspense, fear and an utter sense of hopelessness in the first two books of this trilogy and I just bet you'll be hankering after the third as much as I am.


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