The Strain Review
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If you’ve seen writer/director Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning creep show, Pan’s Labyrinth, you’ll know that a vampire novel with del Toro’s name on the cover probably won’t be filled with romance, longing, and beautifully pasty undead teens who refrain from feeding on humans. If, however, you haven’t seen Pan’s Labyrinth, it’ll still take you just a few pages of The Strain to realize that you’re not in Twilight anymore.

The story begins with a routine flight into New York’s JFK airport. Flight 753 from Berlin arrives without a hitch—but, during its taxi to the gate, everything shuts down. The control tower loses contact, and the plane stalls on the taxiway. When the emergency rescue team finally breaks into the plane, they find the passengers dead.

Dr. Ephriam Goodweather of the CDC’s New York branch is called in to investigate the plane’s emergency. He manages to find four survivors on the plane, but before he has time to figure out what happened to them, one of the survivors (a lawyer, of course) gets them released from quarantine. Only one survivor—the plane’s captain—stays behind for more tests. But before Eph can figure out what killed the rest of the passengers—or what’s causing the strange transformations in the captain’s body—another inexplicable event turns a threat into an plague that could wipe out all of New York before spreading through the rest of the country.

An ancient evil is making its way through the city, and no one’s willing—or able—to understand its cataclysmic impact except Goodweather, an old pawn broker, and an exterminator.

In The Strain, Hogan and del Toro set the stage for a horrifying new trilogy. This isn’t your niece’s vampire novel; The Strain is gritty and disturbing, drenched in blood and wriggling with burrowing, virus-spreading worms. It’s a frantic read that drips with suspense, growing more and more menacing by the page.

Then again, this isn’t Bram Stoker’s vampire novel, either. The root of this deadly epidemic isn’t just some pasty, cape-wearing guy with fangs. It’s darker and more menacing than that. And the “disease” itself spreads in a completely different—and strikingly 21st-century—way.

While The Strain offers a new twist on the old vampire novel, though, the story isn’t without its share of clichés. The basic story is somewhat familiar, and many of the characters (and their situations) are pretty boilerplate. Still, while Goodweather is the usual workaholic with a heart of gold, his position gives the story an interesting perspective—a sort of CSI: Vampires. And the closer he gets—and the more he discovers—the more the tension builds.

The book’s greatest fault is that the details aren’t always solid, leaving readers with some distracting unanswered questions. But, really, isn’t that what a trilogy’s all about? I’m sure that Hogan and del Toro will continue to offer more horrifying details as the series continues—and, thanks to The Strain’s fittingly suspenseful conclusion, you can bet your silver spear that I’ll be picking up the follow-up to see what happens next.

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