I used to be an avid reader of fiction. I'd zip through one or two novels a week. Now, it's mostly nonfiction — I blame my incredibly demanding schedule and resulting mental exhaustion — because made-up prose usually just fails to engage me for very long. I've wanted to like several popular genre books; I tried a Sookie Stackhouse story, and got about 30% through that. I haven't read Stephen King in ages, and I've given up on Dean R. Koontz altogether. I didn't even bother with Twilight. I blamed myself and my own lack of focus… until I started reading my advance review copy of The Strain, the first volume in a trilogy by fanciful filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and thriller author Chuck Hogan.
I was not previously familiar with Hogan's work, but of course I knew del Toro (read horror.com's first interview with him, 2003, here). I knew he was eloquent, well-spoken, intelligent, and creative. I was happy to have these impressions further enforced by reading The Strain, which were augmented by a new appreciation for Hogan's own brand of literary acumen.
The story follows a cache of vampires who decide, after centuries of hiding in the shadows, to darken our mortal world and turn the age-old dynamic around by exploiting our own greatest weaknesses: our fragile life. From the inside flap: "They have always been here. Vampires. In secret and in darkness. Waiting. Now their time has come. In one week, Manhattan will be gone. In one month, the country. In two months — the world."
But the mortal inhabitants of the globe aren't so willing to let it go. Reminiscent of Robert McCammon's Swan Song, and even Stephen King's The Stand, the story follows individual rebels in their fight against the vampire plague — the "strain" of the book's title. Mixing science with scares, the humans (mostly centered in and around New York City) are a mosaic ranging from a cutting edge CDC researcher to an elderly, superstitious pawnbroker.
Pulling no punches, the authors write with extreme description, some of it so discomfiting, you just might go back and reread a passage to satisfy your disbelieving eyes. (The only other genre authors who've affected me this way are Brett Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk; in totally different settings, of course. And, to be honest, the best story I have ever read on viruses is still Palahniuk's Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey.)
My heaps of praise are not to say The Strain is a perfect novel — it is pretty predictable — but given the inevitable expectations that come with a "marquee" name on the front cover, it does live up to the hype. If you're a fan of vampire books and have been disappointed with the usual avalanche of angst and romance, you must read The Strain.
The Strain’s website is www.thestraintrilogy.com
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson