21 August 2012

Book Review: The Strain by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

Title: The Strain
Author(s): Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan
Genre(s): Horror, Paranormal, Science Fiction
Publisher/Date: William Morrow / June 2, 2009
Series: The Strain Trilogy (Book #1)

"They have always been here. Vampires. In secret and in darkness. Waiting. Now their time has come. In one week, Manhattan will be gone. In one month, the country. In two months—the world." –Amazon.com

Case Study
The Strain starts on a high note with an airplane landing at JFK—only something goes horribly wrong. Mid-landing the plane ceases all movement. No lights, no noise, no nothing. After several failed attempts at raising the flight crew, the CDC is called to the scene under the leadership of Ephraim Goodweather. On boarding the doomed flight, he finds that all of the passengers, save four, have died under mysterious circumstances. Eph and his team investigate the cause of these deaths, fearing a viral outbreak could be to blame. The supernatural answers he finds cause him to question science, God and life as he knows it. Eph eventually teams up with a rag-tag band of misfits, including an old man who has previously encountered this strain, desperate to stop the ancient evil that's plaguing their city.

The Game's Afoot
Sounds promising, right? I thought so. I picked up this book with high hopes, expecting nothing but the best from my man, Guillermo del Toro. I mean, with a repertoire that consists of Pan’s Labyrinth, Hell Boy and Mimic, how could you possibly fuck up? So then why was it so hard for me to finish reading it? Why was I left feeling so completely malcontented? Let me break it down for you. When you’re a die-hard fan of someone’s work, there is a certain caliber of quality that you come to expect from them. I picked this book up for the simple fact that I wanted to be thoroughly creeped out. Del Toro is a master at the creep-factor. Don’t believe me? 

Tell me that’s not the definition of creepy. And don’t get me wrong; there were parts in this book that did just that. But that’s also the problem—the scary parts were too far and few between. The pacing was all wrong and in those down moments, I was completely bored. The beginning is so strong and then, all too quickly, it falls flat and it’s this way throughout the duration of the novel. What little action we’re left with is interspersed with really random tangents and it does nothing but detract from the actual story. I think the other big issue was the schizophrenic jumps in POV making it a challenge to follow. We’re given the story from a multitude of perspectives yet I found it hard to really connect or care about any one of them. It’s difficult to discern who’s a main character and who’s playing a supporting role because one is particularly memorable.

Bad as it was, I must, however, give Hogan and del Toro their due credit. When they get it right, they really nail it. There were parts where I was gripping the armrests of my seat (yes, I unknowingly read it on a plane), anxiously waiting to find out what happens next. There were also parts where the suspense builds just enough tension to keep you hooked and wanting for more. The opening and closing chapters do this particularly well. I also really enjoyed their updated take on the vampire myth. These aren’t your usual sensationalized, overly-sexed vamps. They are ruthless, ugly and monstrous; not something we see very much of in today's entertainment. And what I really appreciated was the sci-fi spin woven through the book, making vampirism a plague of sorts. The lines between science and the supernatural are blurred in a way that feels very much like something out of a Michael Crichton or James Rollins novel, and that pleases the super geek in me.

Summary Prognosis
I know it sounds like I hated this novel, but really, I think I was just really let down. That’s what happens when your expectations are too high. Hogan and del Toro have some pretty fresh ideas, only they fail in their execution. That right there, folks, is the most disappointing thing about this book. There’s potential here, but not enough to bring me back for parts two and three. I do think this would make one hell of a horror movie though and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that del Toro will redeem himself and make it happen!

Rating: ★★

Read It: AmazonBarnes & Noble | Audible
Discuss It: Goodreads

You can read an excerpt from The Strain from DreadCentral online HERE and watch the book trailer below.


  1. I listened to this one on audiobook and I actually quite enjoyed it, but I do think it helped that Ron Perlman was the narrator.

  2. That's too bad it dissappointed a bit, especially since you had such high expectations.
    Nice review! It does sound like a creepy book though.

  3. Kat - I really wanted to like this book, I tried so hard, but it just wasn't happening. Perhaps, I'll give it another go on audio this time. Ron Perlman is amazing!

    Naida - Don't get me wrong, this wasn't the right book for me but there were certainly parts that amped up the creep-factor.

  4. Anonymous8/22/2012

    Despite the fact you didn't find it as great as you felt it should have been, I think the story line sounds gripping enough. I may go ahead and check it out anyway! I've never read anything by this author before anyway, so I probably won't have my hopes as high. Maybe that's what I need going into it. :-)

    1. Like I said in my review, this book definitely has it's creepier moments and is worth at least a look. Just because it didn't live up to my expectations, doesn't mean it won't do the job for someone else. Let me know what you think of it should you read it!

  5. I can't believe you read this on a plane! Gah! I totally agree that Pan's Labyrinth is super scary, and I thought that this book looked good. Oh well, maybe movies are Del Toro's best medium. Great review!

    1. Thanks so much! I didn't even realize what I was getting myself into when I cracked this book on a plane. Possibly one of the scariest scenes I've read. EVER.


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