Book Review: The Strain

The Strain CoverThis book review is of The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan.
This review is not a part of the 2011 Speculative Fiction Contest (because 2011 is over, and the 2012 challenge doesn’t seem to include a review portion), but I decided that I enjoyed book reviews enough to keep on doing them.

The Basics
Something terrible happens to an aeroplane on the tarmac at JFK Airport New York, and it is up to a lone-wolf disease specialist to find out what the hell is going on. Things quickly go from weird to troublesome when the plague that killed the passengers on the plane starts to spread throughout the Big Apple.

The Good
The bad guys don’t sparkle.

Sorry, I know that technically counts as a spoiler, the bad guys in The Strain are vampires, and it took a long time for the authors to clarify that point to the reader. But really, the vampires in this book are some mean-ass blood suckers, not the pretty, picking flowers and holding hands kind. I like that.

The Bad
Where do I start?

I had high hopes for The Strain when I started reading it, but I quickly lost interest and found the plot and characters so absurd that I just couldn’t take the story seriously. I finished though, but only so that I could write this review and warn you of how bad this book is.

The Strain is a non-stop cliché treadmill and the poor reader is left wading through flat dialogue, weird metaphors, and phrases that make you laugh out loud at the worst possible moment. There is the shadowy cabal; the brilliant-genius CDC scientist hero; the beautiful, sexually accommodating female sidekick who takes a back seat and never does anything useful (except babysit while the MEN go off to slay the big baddie at the end of the book).

The authors seem to be very confused about what causes the vampirism. Is it a virus? Is it a worm in your blood? Who can tell.

And what kills vampires again? The authors throw out the usual methods (holy water, crucifix through the heart etc.) but cling to sunlight (maybe). It’s confusing. The rules change as you read the book and that sucks. If you are writing off-canon you need to at least be consistent about the things you change.

The Bottom Line
I think this story would make a great movie. It’s full of action, the plot is thin, and the characters make up for their vapid lack of depth by being good looking and/or OSSUM. But, as a book it fails. And apparently there are two more books coming out (it’s a freaking trilogy!), I won’t be reading those.
If you want good vampire fiction, read I Am Legend, it kicks The Strain’s ass a thousand times over.

“. . . her clothes and skin could not have been dirtier if she had been sleeping in real dirt.”
– The Strain

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