When it was announced that popular horror filmmaker Guillermo del Toro would be co-writing a novel, lots of fans were super excited about it. Though I don’t subscribe to the opinion that everything he touches turns to gold, I am a del Toro fan, and find all of his films imaginative, if not enjoyable. Though The Strain came out last year (and I started it as soon as it was released), the story didn’t quite grip me initially, and I put the book down for a while, only coming back to it and finishing it this week.
The Strain is a mash up of a zombie movie and a Guillermo del Toro vampire movie (there are quite a few similarities between the vampires here and the ones in Blade II). In it, a vampire outbreak spreads throughout New York City, while a disease expert named Eph, and ancient vampire hunter names Setrakian, and their friends work to stop it from spreading…and to stop the Master who started it in the first place.
Taking its cues from Stephen King, The Strain wastes no time in introducing the group of characters who are going to try to save the day. While Eph and Setrakian, the two main characters, are well fleshed out, others aren’t as much. There’s Vasiliy, a rat exterminator who, really, is only a rat exterminator as far as we know. Or Nora, Eph’s love interest who never really rises to much more than that. I have to admit some disappointment in the book’s characters, as I found myself not having a vested interest in most of them.
Not only that, the book takes it time to get going. It starts off with some great suspense surrounding an abandoned plane, and then slows to a crawl from there until the last hundred pages or so. There’s a full chapter about the habits of rats, and another about how eclipses work. Fun information, mind you, but just a bit too much information than is needed for the story, and so much that it takes you out of the progression. I’ve never read a book by author Chuck Hogan, so I’m not sure who brought the dry pieces into the book…but they are most definitely DRY.
However, I did keep reading, and managed to get all the way through it without much pain. I didn’t hate The Strain, and I actually enjoyed some of the ideas and some of the story aspects. But once the action gets going in those last hundred pages, rather than leaving me on the edge of my seat, I found it repetitious. Behead vampires, burn the worms that cause vampirism, repeat. And the same procedure is described with EVERY vampire killing. It’s just not fun anymore by the tenth time you read it.
Then there’s the ending … or lack thereof. The Strain was always intended to be the start of a trilogy, but some resolution would have been nice. Instead, there’s a ton of build up for a disappointment of an ending, and more set up for the sequel. If anything, The Strain feels like the first hour of a movie, rather than the first third of a trilogy. I couldn’t help but put down the book and think “that’s it? 400 pages for that ending?” It’s unsatisfying, and for a book of this length, not making it worth the time and effort is a crime.