I’ve been a fan of del Toro for a long time. Yes, I like the Hellboy movies. Pan’s Labyrinth was amazing. He has a strong and original imagination, like an even more demented version of Grimms’ fairy tales, but I was curious to find out if it would translate into a non-visual medium. Sure, books can contain powerful descriptions and the best writers can make a reader see the story in their mind as they read. But it’s not the same as a movie. I’m not sure how much of The Strain is Chuck Hogan, since I haven’t read any of his other books, but I could definitely see del Toro’s imagination at work here. While The Strain is not as startling as del Toro’s movies, it is still a great read.
The Strain takes the idea of vampires and viruses and runs with it. Much like the vampires in the Buffyverse were animated by demons, the vampires of this book are animated by a virus that spreads through the body like a cancer and adapts the body into a killing machine. The vampires in this book are not the sexy, cool creatures we’ve been seeing in movies and books currently (I’m looking at you, True Blood). They’re throwbacks to Nosferatu–pale, bald beasts with talons and mostly unable to think about anything apart from sucking the blood out of people. They’re a bit like zombies, and the virus is just as contagious.
And of course, the main characters don’t have much going for them. Ephriam Goodweather is a doctor who works for the CDC. Abraham Setrakian is a lot like van Helsing, a creepy old man who knows what’s going on. There are other incidental characters that I believe will play bigger roles in the other two books in the series. Setrakian has be preparing to face the Master–the bid bad vampire–since the Second World War and has to work hard to convince the scientist Goodweather what exactly is going on. Setrakian’s case is helped when a couple of the infected attack Goodweather in the hospital. Del Toro and Hogan, however, have played with the myth so much that this virus seems unstoppable. The only thing keeping the vampires from infecting everyone are the rivers surrounding the island of Manhattan; these vampires can’t cross running water without help.
I will say that this book is kind of cinematic. It’s told in short chapters that read like scenes in a movie. The pace is fast and if I had had the time, I would have read it in a single sitting. I am looking forward to the next two books.