The Strain

The Strain
Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, 2009

The short of it: I really liked this book.  It's extremely fitting for this to be the final book in my vampire survey, because it is a modern mash-up/reinterpretation of the best bits of many of the books I've read earlier.  One of the quotes on the back even calls it “an unholy spawn of I Am Legend [and] Salem's Lot.”  It was scary and gross and awesome.

And now, a story.  In September of 2009, Erin entered a contest, in which first prize was tickets to the Fellowship of the Ring live concert at Radio City Music Hall.  He didn't win that.  He did win second place, in which the prize was supposed to be a copy of the book The Music of the Lord of the Rings, a copy of The Hobbit audiobook, and a bookmark.  You can read the short piece that he won with here. 

However, the Music... book got tied up in copyright problems, and as of this date has still not been released.  So instead of delaying the prize package indefinitely, in October the contest runners sent us the audiobook, the bookmark, and a copy of The Strain, under the impeccable logic string that follows.   Book about LoTR movies = LoTR movies = Hobbit movies in pre-production = Guillermo Del Toro to direct = GDT wrote a book = That's practically the same thing!  But I'm certainly not complaining.

Without getting too into the plot, I can safely tell you that the book is about vampires invading New York City.  In the first chapter, a plane lands at JFK, then shuts down immediately, all systems quiet.  Something is very very wrong.  This might be one of the first modern books set in NYC that I've read since moving here, and that does give it an extra level of eeriness for me.  The vampires are quite powerful and very scary.  The humans are confused and brave and many of them are doomed to die horribly.  The creeping dread is very well done in this book, and the whole thing reads at a wonderfully breathless pace.

The book is really pretty, too.  I like the font choices, and the symbol on the section dividers that looks like a cross between an ancient talisman and a modern biohazard symbol.  That basically sums up the attitude of the whole story, both metaphorically and literally.  If inexplicable disease started plaguing New York City, don't you think they'd call the outbreak containment team?

They do a great job recreating the diversity of NYC in these characters, down to the smallest parts.  Lots of great names; Del Toro, for somewhat obvious reasons, seems to default to Latino/Hispanic characters for small “generic” roles that another author might have made white.  This was a nice refresher for me, because I'm sure I don't always notice when authors stack their books with too high a proportion of white characters in “generic” parts considering where/when their books are set, but I'll try to do better.

The possible science of vampires, and vampire legends, is explored in depth here, as it was in I Am Legend, but the science is more plausible for a modern reader.  Of course, who knows if it will be in 50 years.  I agree with the commentary I quoted at the top, in that it modernizes the idea of vampires, approaching them scientifically, while still focusing on the kind of human drama that makes Salem's Lot so gripping.

I don't want to give away too much more, but I recommend this book fully to horror readers of all stripes, and vampire fans who prefer Blade to Twilight.  These vampires are gross, and very, very deadly.

4 Stars - A Really Good Book

Of necessity, some small spoilers follow...

Vampiric powers in The Strain include:
Some hypnosis, works more like a telepathic compulsion
No Animal Control, no turning into animals, but this part of the myth is acknowledged and explained.
Appearance changed to grotesque human-like creature, (think along the lines of Noseferatu/Nomak from Blade 2) degree of change may be dependent on length of time as a vampire.

Limitations include:
May need darkness for full awareness, do not have to fully sleep in the day, but are less effective.
Need connection to soil, in a sense.  Many vamps sleep in dirt or underground because it protects them from the sun.
Do not need to be invited into a building
Not weak against garlic or holy symbols
Some difficulty crossing running water

New vampires?
Made via bite, draining of blood.  Partially drained victims may not die fully for several days, over which time they feel extremely ill, or fully drained victims may rise after a period of time.  Similar to Interview... actually, full transformation is a process that takes time and pain.  New vampires are weaker, slower than more experienced ones.  (Also, FYI White Wolf fans, they seem to have a 'Generation' system in play as well.)

How to destroy:
Remove the head from the body, or otherwise destroy the head.  They do not turn to dust.  Sunlight kills, but not instantly.  Silver or ultraviolet light injures them.

Next Week:
I'm wrapping up vampires with a few parting thoughts and a comic review.

In Two Weeks:
The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V.S. Redick


  1. I started but did not finish this book. I'll give it another chance.


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