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The Strain: Book One of The Strain Trilogy Hardcover – June 2, 2009
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Amazon Best of the Month, June 2009: Who better to reinvent the vampire genre than Guillermo Del Toro, the genius behind Pan's Labyrinth, and Chuck Hogan, master of character-driven thrillers like Prince of Thieves? The first of a trilogy, The Strain is everything you want from a horror novel--dark, bloody, and packed full of mayhem and mythology. But, be forewarned, these are not like any vampires you've met before--they're not sexy or star-crossed or "vegetarians"--they are hungry, they are connected, and they are multiplying. The vampire virus marches its way across New York, and all that stands between us and a grotesque end are a couple of scientists, an old man with a decades-old vendetta, and a young boy. This first installment moves fast and sets up the major players, counting down to the beginning of the end. Great summer reading. --Daphne Durham
The visionary creator of the Academy Award-winning Pan's Labyrinth and a Hammett Award-winning author bring their imaginations to this bold, epic novel about a horrifying battle between man and vampire that threatens all humanity. It is the first installment in a thrilling trilogy and an extraordinary international publishing event.
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.
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: Chapter One
"Once upon a time," said Abraham Setrakian’s grandmother, "there was a giant."
Young Abraham’s eyes brightened, and immediately the cabbage borscht in the wooden bowl got tastier, or at least less garlicky. He was a pale boy, underweight and sickly. His grandmother, intent on fattening him, sat across from him while he ate his soup, entertaining him by spinning a yarn.
A bubbeh meiseh, a "grandmother’s story." A fairy tale. A legend.
"He was the son of a Polish nobleman. And his name was Jusef Sardu. Master Sardu stood taller than any other man. Taller than any roof in the village. He had to bow deeply to enter any door. But his great height, it was a burden. A disease of birth, not a blessing. The young man suffered. His muscles lacked the strength to support his long, heavy bones. At times it was a struggle for him just to walk. He used a cane, a tall stick--taller than you--with a silver handle carved into the shape of a wolf’s head, which was the family crest."
"Yes, Bubbeh?" said Abraham, between spoonfuls.
"This was his lot in life, and it taught him humility, which is a rare thing indeed for a nobleman to possess. He had so much compassion-- for the poor, for the hardworking, for the sick. He was especially dear to the children of the village, and his great, deep pockets--the size of turnip sacks--bulged with trinkets and sweets. He had not much of a childhood himself, matching his father’s height at the age of eight, and surpassing him by a head at age nine. His frailty and his great size were a secret source of shame to his father. But Master Sardu truly was a gentle giant, and much beloved by his people. It was said of him that Master Sardu looked down on everyone, yet looked down on no one."
She nodded at him, reminding him to take another spoonful. He chewed a boiled red beet, known as a "baby heart" because of its color, its shape, its capillary-like strings. "Yes, Bubbeh?"
"He was also a lover of nature, and had no interest in the brutality of the hunt--but, as a nobleman and a man of rank, at the age of fifteen his father and his uncles prevailed upon him to accompany them on a six-week expedition to Romania."
"To here, Bubbeh?" said Abraham. "The giant, he came here?"
"To the north country, kaddishel. The dark forests. The Sardu men, they did not come to hunt wild pig or bear or elk. They came to hunt wolf, the family symbol, the arms of the house of Sardu. They were hunting a hunting animal. Sardu family lore said that eating wolf meat gave Sardu men courage and strength, and the young master’s father believed that this might cure his son’s weak muscles."
"Their trek was long and arduous, as well as violently opposed by the weather, and Jusef struggled mightily. He had never before traveled anywhere outside his family’s village, and the looks he received from strangers along the journey shamed him. When they arrived in the dark forest, the woodlands felt alive around him. Packs of animals roamed the woods at night, almost like refugees displaced from their shelters, their dens, nests, and lairs. So many animals that the hunters were unable to sleep at night in their camp. Some wanted to leave, but the elder Sardu’s obsession came before all else. They could hear the wolves, crying in the night, and he wanted one badly for his son, his only son, whose gigantism was a pox upon the Sardu line. He wanted to cleanse the house of Sardu of this curse, to marry off his son, and produce many healthy heirs.
"And so it was that his father, off tracking a wolf, was the first to become separated from the others, just before nightfall on the second evening. The rest waited for him all night, and spread out to search for him after sunrise. And so it was that one of Jusef’s cousins failed to return that evening. And so on, you see."
"Until the only one left was Jusef, the boy giant. That next day he set out, and in an area previously searched, discovered the body of his father, and of all his cousins and uncles, laid out at the entrance to an underground cave. Their skulls had been crushed with great force, but their bodies remained uneaten--killed by a beast of tremendous strength, yet not out of hunger or fear. For what reason, he could not guess—though he did feel himself being watched, perhaps even studied, by some being lurking within that dark cave.
"Master Sardu carried each body away from the cave and buried them deep. Of course, this exertion severely weakened him, taking most of his strength. He was spent, he was farmutshet. And yet, alone and scared and exhausted, he returned to the cave that night, to face what evil revealed itself after dark, to avenge his forebears or die trying. This is known from a diary he kept, discovered in the woods many years later. This was his last entry."
From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
THE STRAIN - book one of the trilogy of novels from Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan.
If you're a big GDT fan then you are getting some classic, old school Guillermo here. This is his triumphant return to horror in a whole new medium.
The end result?
BLADE 2 meets CSI.
THE STRAIN is not a meditation like PAN'S LABYRINTH, or a metaphorical folk tale like THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE. It is an in-your-face horror thriller that is not for the squeamish.
Needless to say, I really enjoyed this book. It is very well written and honestly, I couldn't put it down. For my money, nothing holds my interest like a vampire plague, and this book has some cool new twists to the vampire mythology.
The premise of a vampire "infecting" its victims with a virus is not completely new: I've seen the idea before. What THE STRAIN does well is explore the infection of the unfortunate victim in great detail. The main character of THE STRAIN is Ephraim Goodweather, epidemiologist for the Center of Disease Control. His investigation as to the nature of this sudden and mysterious plague requires understanding the nature and effects of the virus itself.
In other words, the entire book is like playing in GDT's sandbox of the scientifically weird and grotesque. It is a medical journal for Guillermo's vision of the ultimate vampire.
Talk about Gross Anatomy.
But let's not forget Mr. Hogan's contributions. A master mystery writer (PRINCE OF THIEVES), Hogan's sense of pacing and suspense compliments Guillermo's sense of fantasy and horror perfectly - although from what Guillermo has said, it appears Chuck has a prolific eye for the macabre as well. He had never written a horror novel until now, but you would never know it.
In addition to Ephraim, there is a large cast of characters to this story, ranging from the heroic to the evil to the infected. Particularly ingenious is the character of Vasiliy Fet, a tough pest control expert that lends his expertise to Eph. It turns out that rats aren't all that different from vampires - and Fet uses that to his advantage.
Another strong character is the enigmatic Abraham Setrakian. A former professor, and current pawnbroker - his ties to the vampire threat not only go back to the WWII Holocaust Death Camps, but also to his childhood. He may be the best chance mankind has of surviving - too bad he's on heart medication.
I won't spoil anything about the vampires for you - that's the best part of the book - but I will say that they bare a striking similarity to the Reapers in BLADE 2. I know Guillermo said that he wasn't able to fully realize the Reapers the way he wanted to in that film, so perhaps this is finally his perfect vision of a vampire: grotesque, horrible, thirsty and a perfect evolutionary predator.
The wonderful part about THE STRAIN is that the novel is the perfect medium for bringing GDT's vampires to life. You understand them inside and out (literally), but also you'll get uncomfortable access to the thoughts and fears of those who are infected...or are being infected.
And that's stuff you'll never get from a movie, so consider it the ultimate bonus feature.
As far as reinventing the vampire genre, as the jacket blurbs claim it does, not so much. They give a virus/parasite (it's a little confusing as to which, actually, since the characters refer to a virus but there are also visible "blood worms" swimming in the blood of the infected, which seems more like a parasite)as the cause, which is different than the traditional vampire, but certainly has been done before. Probably the most interesting plot development, which is that there are factions within the vampire ranks with differing views about how to interact with humanity, is barely dealt with (probably to be explored in future volumes), but at any rate is certainly not new.
I don't mind tinkering with the vampire mythology (especially since there are a number of myths anyway, so there are always some ground rules to set in a vampire story), but "The Strain" seems to have some consistency issues. For example, vampirism has a biological cause, but the infected are unable to cross running water without assistance from living humans. Why? The sleeping in earth myth is attributed to a sort of nesting instinct that the vampires have, rather than to a true need...however, the Master carts a giant coffinful of Romanian soil around the globe with him and takes some risks to recover the coffin when it's threatened (also, one of the human characters refers to needing to purify the earth so the Master can't use the coffin anymore). Since other vampires in the story seem to function just fine without access to dirt, this seems like a lot of trouble to go to for what is essentially comfort. The infected look normal in the early stages, but can be detected by looking at their reflection in a mirror (but only if it is silver-backed, because silver "always reveals the truth")...why is that again? If it's a virus?
But probably the worst parts of the book, for me, were the parts that just seemed kinda cheezy. For example, a WWII concentration camp survivor (presumably at least in his 80's, since he was an adult in Treblinka) running around decapitating vampires with a single stroke of his silver rapier. Did I mention that he has a heart condition and at one point had every bone in both hands crushed by a vampire? Seems pretty spry, don't he? Not to mention the whole, "my sword sings of silver" battlecry.
I also thought the CDC doctors made the leap from "this virus/parasite is changing people into monsters" to "therefore we must bloodthirstily exterminate the infected" a little too quickly, without even a brief side trip to "is there some way to confine these people and try to develop a treatment?" I could maybe see jumping over that if the main characters were military or law enforcement, but doctors? Doctors usually want to try to treat diseases.
Finally, the story feels like it is being padded out to make it a trilogy when it doesn't need to be. Everything covered in the first volume could have easily been compressed into 100 pages or so without losing anything essential (or even particularly interesting).