Book review – The Strain

This is a book review for The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, available here.

This isn’t my usual fare when it comes to books. Horror has never been my favourite genre but this was recommended to me and so I downloaded it ages ago but never read it until now.

It’s a peculiar book. Not surprisingly, given that director Guillermo del Toro is involved, it reads much like a film adaptation. The way the scenes are set up and the characters are introduced is done exactly as it would be on screen and it wasn’t hard to imagine watching it in a cinema. The unfortunate side effect of it was that there have been any number of films in a similar vein over the last decade, meaning that the book comes with a nagging familiarity that you have heard this story before. There is little to set it apart from the standard tropes.

The main characters are well developed. Eph, the lead CDC doctor on the case, is a character that one can easily get behind. He’s struggling to believe what he’s learning, fighting the horror in a realistic and consistent way that makes you sympathetic to him and his fear for his estranged family. I didn’t really get a feel for Nora, her character was a little 2D, but Setrakian was another great character. A survivor of the death camp at Treblinka, he’s seen evil that few could comprehend and after all this time he’s still fighting the darkness in the face of overwhelming public attitude.

The story has a lot of faults. The first is that there are too many threads that go nowhere, such as explaining Eldritch Palmer’s role in what has happened. We are vaguely aware that he’s done it for eternal life but mostly the plan is just hinted at. I’m aware that this is a series and so it may become clear in the second book, but it left me with a feeling of dissatisfaction. The second issue for me was that the writing ocasionally got bogged down in overly descriptive tracts. Something would be mentioned and then the authors would do an info dump about it with detail that seems unnecessary to the story.

The final issue I had with it is that the set up for the story goes to great lengths to provide a viable scientific background for the story that’s just on this side of rational. You can accept the virus theory and the physiological changes etc and how and why the CDC are involved. The issue is that they then blast all credulity out of the water with the theory that you can’t see the vampires in mirrors and they burn to dust in the sunlight. I think if they wanted to stick to the old gothic fairytale rules, they should have set out in that vein from the start rather than try and make it a serious scientific story and then jar the reader straight out of it with patently impossible events.

I think if you enjoy horror and you’re looking for a standard novel, this is for you. If you’re looking for something fresh and original, look elsewhere!

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