In THE STRAIN, the first book of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s now-concluded “vampires reimagined” horror trilogy, New York and its surrounds were consumed by zombie-like, stingers-that-can-shoot-out-of-their-throats monsters commanded by a mysterious master over the course of a week.
New to trade paperback, the second novel, THE FALL, picks up where we left off, with our previously independent protagonists finally banded together, and the new vampire race slowly gaining intelligence.
In the wake of STRAIN’s down ending, our fearless vampire hunters — government epidemiologists Eph Goodweather and Nora Martinez; New York exterminator Vasiliy Fet; and would-be Van Helsing Abe Setrakian, whose history with these monsters dates to his childhood — are holed up in Setrakian’s well-fortified building, planning their next steps and trying to determine what the monsters will get up to next.
Unfortunately, Eph’s ex-wife is a vampire with a radar lock on Eph’s son, and she remains determined to find the boy and vamp him up. Meanwhile, there is already a vampire clan in North America, and it’s none too pleased with this new infection, so it recruits gang members to help them with their own vampire-hunting efforts.
On the other side, twisted psychopath billionaire Eldritch Palmer’s partnership with the vampires’ master nears its endgame, while the Big Cheese Vampire and his former rock star vampire assistant work toward global domination.
The best parts of the STRAIN were the little vignettes showing the impact of the infection on the city — grisly tales of infection and survival. (Author’s note: I listened the the audiobook version of THE STRAIN, read by the always-awesome Ron Perlman, so that might have had an impact on my opinion of that book. I read THE FALL with my own eyes, untainted by Perlman’s gravelly goodness.)
In THE FALL, the action focuses on a handful of factions over just a couple of days, and a lot of THE STRAIN’s flavor is lost as the authors push the plot relentlessly forward. Setrakian sets his focus on acquiring an ancient book that supposedly holds the vampires’ secrets, and flashbacks into his past provide fascinating backstory to the trilogy’s rich mythology.
In the present, though, there’s not a lot of really interesting stuff going on. The other vampire clan is pretty cool, but isn’t fleshed out nearly enough. There’s lots of gore, but there are very few genuinely suspenseful, dreadful moments. As trilogies go, THE FALL is less a traditional second act than it is an attempt for the authors to get the main players (and the world at large) where they need to be for the third book. But lots of stuff does happen, and plenty of information about the vampires is trotted out amid all of this, even if character development stands still for the most part.
On the plus side, some crazy shit happens at the end of the book that I really appreciated — the trilogy’s world can never return to the old “normal” after everything that happens, and I like that kind of boldness. There’s also a nice bit of dark humor here that’s much appreciated and never discordant.
If you’re already invested in THE STRAIN trilogy, THE FALL is worthwhile, if nothing else, for the great imagination behind the vampires on display here and the superb flashbacks and backstory. Del Toro’s got a twisted mind, and Hogan takes that and runs with it. But THE FALL reads like it’s more Hogan than del Toro, for the worse. —Ryun Patterson