I’m sure that most of you have heard of Guillermo del Toro, and odds are you know his name due to his work with films. For those of you who have not heard of him, he did Mimic, Blade II, Hellboy, and Pan’s Labyrinth. He also turned down I Am Legend and Harry Potter 6 to work on Hellboy II. Not only that, but he was attached to direct The Hobbit, as well as an adaptation of Drood, a novel by one of my favorite authors, Dan Simmons, and is also planning on doing a new Frankenstein, a new Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and perhaps the coolest, At the Mountains of Madness, by Lovecraft. Now obviously it makes sense that del Toro is mentioned on this site; as his repertoire clearly indicates, the man loves horror. Why on earth would I be writing about him then when my expertise is localized around horror literature? Because not only is del Toro an amazing director, and a die hard horror fan, but he is an incredible author as well. Together with veteran author, Chuck Hogan, del Toro decided to foray into the world of horror literature.
The Strain came out last year, and as I am too poor to spend $30 on hardcover books, I was forced to wait until it came out in paperback to pick it up. The book was definitely worth the wait. It’s about vampires. I know, I know, it seems like every horror story nowadays is about vampires, and to be perfectly honest I’m getting kind of tired of the trend. However, del Toro’s novel is not just the same old crap re-hashed in different scenarios. It begins with a 777 landing in JFK airport, and going dead on the runway. The first suspect is terrorists, and bombs and hijacking and hostages, but when the plane is opened up, every single person is dead, with no visible cause. And everything gets worse from there.
The story is fast-paced and fresh, drawing from numerous other works in the vampire mythology, with Dracula, I Am Legend and Carrion Comfort being a few that stayed fresh in mind as I read it. The vampires in The Strain are not just inexplicable monsters, but they have a disease that infects them and brings them back to life. This is the part where everyone yawns and mutters that they’ve heard this story before. Well in del Toro’s story its not some viral plague. No, what he envisions is hordes of worms in the victims blood that can actually infect people after the vampire is killed. They wriggle their way out of severed limbs or blood samples in numerous occasions, and not only do they infect their victims, they change them, replacing organs with cancerous tumors that control the body, and they give each vampire a projectile stinger/proboscis that they use for feeding. That’s not even the worst part. Every passenger on the plane comes back to life, and proceeds to terrorize New York City. While this is going on, there is a Master Vampire who created this new plague, and he needs to be hunted down and destroyed.
The ragtag bunch of heroes is a standard trope in the vampire novel, dating all the way back to Dracula, and del Toro does not stray far from the formula in this case. There are two CDC agents, a young boy, an aging Holocaust survivor with previous vampire experience, and a rat catcher who is an expert on eradicating vermin. The combination is nothing too new, but it is still fun and quirky enough to hold my attention.
The Strain was just as entertaining and imaginative as del Toro’s movies, and what is even better is that it is only the first installment in a trilogy. The second volume arrives in September and the third is set to come out early next year. I will be picking up both and I will of course be reviewing them here. Now that it is out in paperback, there is no excuse to not get it. Think of it as an inoculation against the decline of the modern vampire story, and be prepared to be entertained.