The back cover of Guillermo Del Toro's and Chuck Hogan's The Strain features praise from Clive Cussler (The Dirk Pitt novels), Gregory Maguire (Wicked), Nelson DeMille (Plum Island), and Dan Simmons (Ilium). Many of my favorites, and that list probably tells you as much as you need to know about the book. My advice is stop reading now, and go enjoy the book without any spoilers. But if you insist on knowing more, read on. Massive spoilers lurk below.
The Strain is really two books in one. The first half is CSI with vampires, or perhaps the vampire novel Michael Crichton never wrote. I greatly enjoyed this part of the book. Hogan and Del Toro do a tremendous job building suspense and describing a vampire plague that seems entirely credible. If vampires were real, this is what it would be like. Families would be torn apart in the most terrible manner possible, and there'd be nothing glamorous about it.
Indeed, I had a vivid nightmare (or as I thought of it, an interesting dream) on the first night I spent reading The Strain: I was present at a young child's birthday party and watched as the child drank a large glass of milk. The child immediately began violently vomiting. I poured out the rest of the carton and discovered that it was full of tiny pulsing eggs. I understood immediately that the milk was from a cow that had been corrupted by a parasite.
I can't imagine a better sign of a good horror novel than nightmares.
The second half of the novel is a page turner, very similar to Del Toro's Blade II, featuring staples of the genre including rival vampire factions and an oddball squad of vampire hunters armed with peculiar weaponry. The very end of the book even suggests that there will be a daywalker like vampire hunter in the next novel in the trilogy. In fact, Ron Perlman, who starred in Blade II, was selected to read the audiobook.
At the book's official site, you can listen to Ron Perlman read the fairy tale that serves as the story's prologue. Features coming soon include "trailers" highlighting dramatic moments in the book, and a blog written by one of the story's heroes. Amusingly, the hot spot that leads to reviews of the book is a warning sign that says, "Look out for rats."
Over at Wired, you can read an interview with Del Toro in which he explains that he initially pitched the story as a television series, but abandoned the plan after Fox asked for a vampire comedy.
Harper Collins is also hosting a giveaway: The Grand Prize winner will receive a DVD player, a DVD library of Guillermo Del Toro movies, a signed first edition of The Strain, and an advance readers copy of the second book in the trilogy, The Fall, as soon as it is available. Five runners-up will receive a signed first edition of The Strain.
Finally, I did find one aspect of the book distasteful. The main protagonist gets to live out a sort of perverse divorced dad fantasy: at the start of the novel, he loses custody of his son (through no perceived fault of his own), but by the end he has regained that custody, convinced his ex-wife that her new boyfriend is a loser, slaughtered the boyfriend, and seen his ex turn into a vampire.
But all in all, a great vampire novel. The Strain can be preordeed for $18 at Amazon.
UPDATE: Here's one of the trailers
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