Review: The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan.

A Boeing 777 arrives at JFK and is on its way across the tarmac, when it suddenly stops dead. All window shades are pulled down. All lights are out. All communication channels have gone quiet. Crews on the ground are lost for answers, but an alert goes out to the CDC. Dr. Eph Goodweather, head of their Canary project, a rapid-response team that investigates biological threats, gets the call and boards the plane. What he finds makes his blood run cold. In a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem, a former professor and survivor of the Holocaust named Abraham Setrakian knows something is happening. And he knows the time has come, that a war is brewing . . . So begins a battle of mammoth proportions as the vampiric virus that has infected New York begins to spill out into the streets. Eph, who is joined by Setrakian and a motley crew of fighters, must now find a way to stop the contagion and save his city–a city that includes his wife and son–before it is too late.

The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Book #1 in The Strain trilogy. Published June 2nd 2009 by HarperAudio. Audiobook run time is 13 hours and 35 mins, performed by Ron Perlman. Possible triggers: Animal death.

I am a big fan of Guillermo Del Toro’s movies. I am not a big fan of vampires. So I have been on board with, yet also dragging my feet on, The Strain Trilogy since it came out in 2009. It’s one of those things where I wanted to support Guillermo, but was just having a difficult time motivating myself to actually reading another vampire story.

Now granted, not EVERY vampire story is bad (to me). There are a few that I’ve enjoyed over the years, such as Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach by Ramsey Campbell, Bunnicula the vampire rabbit, and even Bram Stoker’s Dracula wasn’t as bad as I was dreading (it would have gotten a better rating from me if there hadn’t been so much filler!). I don’t necessarily hate vampires…. my problem is more that I’m just super burned out on your typical handsome aristocrat vamp with the rock star bod and the emo pity party or any combination of the above. UGH! We get it! It SUCKS to be you. It’s a terrible curse to be a hawty that is lonely for eternity BLAH BLAH BLAH. I get the message, and I’m sups tired of hearing it, ok? (And yes, I know… I’m a huge hypocrite because I have never gotten tired of zombies. :P) Pack your bags, I’m sending you right back to Romania.

Even though I had never read The Strain, I knew the basic gist of what the vampires were like. So, with all of this crazy virus stuff that is going on in our real world at the moment, I thought… well, if there is any time to read a horror story by Del Toro about a virus pandemic that spreads like wildfire… now is the time!

I have 3 copies of The Strain. One is the paperback that is packed up at the moment (long story), the second is a deluxe numbered edition that is made to look like an “old world” design to resemble an ancient volume. It is signed by both authors and the comic artist Troy Nixey, who illustrated it. It is a super fancy oversized hardback book by Lonely Road. Gorgeous! I am a little rough of my books and I definitely did NOT want to drag that around to read. The third copy of this book I just kind of stumbled on to.

Several months ago, I was on Audible trying to decide on a new audiobook to pick up. I wander around on that site just as long as I wander around in a bookstore. I don’t remember if it was a deal of the day or if I was down a rabbit hole searching for something else and randomly ran across it, but somehow I found myself looking at The Strain on Audible. I was about to say “No Thanks” when I noticed it was narrated by Ron Perlman. Uh, YES. It’s Ron Freaking Perlman, ok? That is a HUGE yes. I bought it and then it sat in my library for a while. I will talk more about Ron in a little bit.

I love the set up for this book. A mysterious problem on a plane, everyone is dead. Looks like an unknown virus of some kind. Bodies start to vanish. WTF is happening? It just kept snowballing from there, getting worse and worse. It was an extremely eerie atmosphere from the very start of this book, and just kept getting more and more creepy. Not to mention plenty of “EWW, GROSS!!” parts.

The authors really captured a very real feeling of what healthcare workers (especially disease specialist and the CDC) must feel when facing a virus outbreak. You are trying to hold on to hope for the people in the infected area, so you have all this weight from these people on your shoulders. At the same time you are trying to hope for a better outcome, you see this clock in your head counting down, knowing that with each passing hour more and more people will be infected and that you only have X amount of time.

While the main characters may or may not be likeable and they all have basic, normal human flaws, it’s hard not to feel how much pressure and fear they are facing. I don’t really know how I feel about the characters in this book, honestly. :/ It was really hard for me to judge them on their actions. Even before the shit really hits the fan, they are all very human, average people you might know, or might even be. They are all just trying to make their life work, however they can. Not everyone is going to be the dashing, perfect hero who always knows what to do. Sometimes you make the wrong choice. Sometimes you make the right choice and it still doesn’t work out. Life in general is not perfect, and you have to make due with what you have.

The Strain has an extremely diverse cast, from all walks of life. Rich, poor, criminal, blue collar, different religions, different ethnics, school smarts, street smarts, and all ages. It does a great job of showing that all that stuff doesn’t matter, and that humans are all in the same boat. Like them or don’t, it’s hard not to feel a connection just to them trying to do the best they can with what they have- daily life or vampire virus war.

I have always been very fascinated by (non-fiction) medical histories and studies on things like diseases, viruses, plagues, parasites, where they come from, how they spread, treatments, etc. I really enjoy fiction stories about these sort of things as well, and I thought it was such an epic way of showing vampirism. I mean, just the basic facts that almost all vampire stories share, give them a very parasite feel by nature. So breaking that parasite vibe down to a more literal parasite that infects people, was brilliant. To me, these blood worms are 100 times more scary then just a dude running around biting people. Even when you killed a vampire in The Strain, you had to be careful of the blood worm parasites. They can live outside the body and they can crawl towards you. And it’s not just one or two blood worms that live inside you…. it’s THOUSANDS. Bleh!! Yuck! That is nasty, nasty, NASTY messed up stuff right there!

As if that parasite worm isn’t gross enough, let’s talk about how the vampires look! Pretty EWWW! I love the creativity in how they bite and infect people. It was definitely not your average vampire attack. I really liked how the vampires felt more like a legit parasite or animal, instead of what we normally see for a vampire attack.

There is a main character who is a pest exterminator, and with his PoV, we begin to see how the vampires aren’t really that much different then the vermin and pests the exterminator goes after. I thought that was a very interesting perspective / comparison. Vampires as pests also helped make these vampires feel like a brand new take on vamps. Gone is the fancy, sexy sort of feel. They feel grimy, and scummy, like scurrying rats or roaches. Truly gross creations. Bleh. I wanted a hazmat suit just reading this book!

Ok, so this review is getting a little long, so I’m going to wrap it up with talking a bit about the narrator’s performance. As I said earlier, the narrator is Ron…. freaking…. Perlmon. I love this actor. He does a lot of movies I like, such as Del Toro’s Hellboy. LOVE that movie. A few years he ago, he had a book he did about his life. Very fascinating if you want to check it out. Ron has a very epic voice. Very distinct. Very New York vibe that was perfect for The Strain. I thought he was just right for this book. However…. accents are more on the subtle side, and he doesn’t have a super feminine voice when doing the female characters. So that might bother some people? I don’t know… But his cadence is spot on with each person, and everyone’s voice is varied. You can feel each person’s different personalities and the age differences. You can tell who is who. I liked his performance. I thought he was a really good fit for a creepy story set in New York City.

Briefly, I want to say that there is one spot where some pets get killed. If you have read my past reviews, you know that stuff irks me off greatly and I always try to let other animal lovers know to watch out for that and or avoid it. I had to fast forward the part with the dogs. I don’t know how unpleasant it got, but considering how descriptive other things are in the book, I did not want to know. Don’t kill the doggos. -1 on that. 😡

One last thing! I was surprised that the tv show kept so faithful to the book. 😮 I can’t remember if Del Toro had a hand in creating the show or not, but it was impressive. Only a handful of small changes were made ( As far as book 1 goes. Don’t know about the others yet). I recommend the book and the tv show, in that order.

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