The Strain (The Strain Trilogy #1) Review

The Strain (The Strain Trilogy #1) is a 2009 vampire horror novel written by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, published by William Morrow.  It is the first installment in The Strain Trilogy and follows doctors Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather and Nora Martinez and a small band of fighters as they battle a vampiric virus that is slowing infecting the city.


Positives:

  • Awesome characters
  • Well-written
  • Great antagonist
  • Great story
  • Great suspense
  • Great attention to detail

Negatives:

  • Conveniences in the plot

Plot:  After a Boeing 777 arrives in an airport, completely dead with its window shades pulled down, communications down.  The CDC is alerted to investigate a possible biological threat which is led by Dr. Emphraim “Eph” Goodweather and Dr. Nora Martinez.  What they don’t know is that aboard the airplane is an ancient vampire who escapes and begins spreading vampirism among the populace.  Eph and Nora are joined by a former professor and survivor of the Holocaust named Abraham Setrakian who informs them of the vampiric virus.  Along with a rat exterminator named Vasiliy Fet, the four try to find a way to stop the contagion.

The story is actually pretty good, our heroes struggling to contain a virus that turns its victims into blood thirsty creatures. The story itself is gripping from start to finish.  There are numerous subplots that help give the story depth.  Eph’s custody battle definitely makes for a more personal subplot.  Another aspect I appreciated is how the story not only follows out heroes as they try to stop the virus but also following the viral outbreak itself and how quite it is overrunning Manhattan. Eph’s ex-wife Kelly gets herself infected by not listing and is constantly pursuing Eph and Zack to infect them too, especially Zack.  (3 out of 5)

Characters:  There are some really awesome characters.  The main protagonists are Dr. Emphraim “Eph” Goodweather, Dr. Nora Martinez, Abraham Setrakian, Vasiliy Fet, and Gus. Eph is a CDC official and a man of science who has to stop this unbelievable virus from spreading.  He is a good man and his devotion to his family and friends makes him a likable character worth rooting for.  Dr. Nora Martinez, Eph’s colleague and former lover, is also a solid character.  She’s feminine, balancing strength and vulnerability while being compassionate which makes her a great counterpart to Eph. Great relationship between Eph and Nora, and it’s easy to see how they were a couple at one point.  Abraham Setrakian is an awesome character.  Although he kind of reminds me of Abraham Van Helsing, he does fit a more modern version.

Fet’s just straight up awesome.  The guy is smart, he’s resourceful, and although not as scientifically pronounced as the others, does stand out as a character. Gus is one of those characters who is surprisingly deep, especially since he does seem made to kick vampire tail.  The story features two main antagonists, Eldritch Palmer and The Master.  Palmer is a rich human plotting with The Master and the guy is such a dick.  He’s unlikable on nearly every level.  The Master is just as big of a douchebag but in all honesty is a pretty interesting villain.  He’s pretty intimidating. Now, there isn’t anything particularly striking about these characters but it’s the situation and how they respond to them makes them interesting.  (5 out of 5)

Writing:  Thumbs up to  Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan for presenting such a well-written and well paced book. Del Toro, who has directed several horror and dark fantasy movies, definitely brings something creepy to the table. The writing can get a little graphic at times and the violence intense, but it isn’t overly done and not overly gory.  The vampire descriptions are done well and make the creatures pretty unique, kind of like the reapers in Blade II which were basically mutant vampires.  I’m a fan of exploring new avenues for old concepts and the idea behind the infection, transformation, and their characteristics is original and well-thought.  Another angle that the writing presents is close to CSI which helps to make it feel more grounded.  It gives actual information of planes, procedures during an autopsy, even rats. The writing can be over descriptive at times, and it is perfectly understandable for readers who aren’t particularly interested in those types of details.  Also, there are some conveniences that really don’t make sense, especially when it comes to some of the character decisions.  Kelly gets infected after she dismisses Eph’s warnings to leave.  Why? He’s the head of the CDC team, why wouldn’t she listen.  Her obvious bad decision got her infection making it less impactful and more along the lines of that’s what she deserves.  (3 out of 5)


The Verdict:  In the end, Blade II…I mean The Strain (The Strain Trilogy #1) is actually a pretty good read and for those who have missed the more horror-based vampires, they’ll enjoy this book.  There are some issues with some of the overly detailed writing (for some readers at least), some conveniences with the characters, and the character decisions.  However, what the book offers far outweighs the negatives.  The Strain offers a good cast of characters, great attention to detail, intense and highly suspenseful moments, a great story, good writing, and vampires that totally kick ass.  The Strain (The Strain Trilogy #1) gets 4 out of 5.

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