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The Strain Trilogy

The Straining ROSSMAN

Dark and gritty vampire stories (like Thirst and 'Salem's Lot) are some of my favorite things. Hell, even the Buffyverse played vampires up right and showed that some genuine laughs can be had with the genre while still keeping vamps mean and ugly. But vampire romance stories (like the abyssmal Twilight) forget where the tales of bloodsucking and damning of human souls come from; or they simply never knew and thought that by adding fangs to a teen-lust story without any of the hazards of being a demon (or having one for a significant other) they were doing something new and trendy. Those authors just gave us totally neutered creatures of the night (or sparkly daylight), and they couldn't even get the "romance" parts of their story correct... But I digress.

What brings us here today is The Strain Trilogy of novels (The Strain, The Fall, and The Night Eternal), written by movie god Guillermo del Toro and his partner Chuck Hogan (not Crocodile Dundee, unfortunately). This is a series of books that describes the rise to global domination of one of the old world's vampire Ancients (a being known as "The Master"), and how he is fought by a small motley crew consisting of scientists, an old Holocaust survivor, some gang bangers, and a tough as fuck New York exterminator. The idea behind The Strain is a good one, and the first book is a great read, but things start to fall apart shortly into book two, and although some twists and turns pull the story up by its britches at the end of the second tome and continue into the start of the third book, it all soon goes to hell and turns into a terrible, clusterfuck of an apocalyptic mess that makes the Left Behind series look like a work of Shakespeare.

Let me back up and take each book on its own merits though.

Book One: The Strain

Things start off well enough (or godawful enough for the humans in this story) when a plane lands at JFK International Airport from Germany, and then "goes dark" on the runway, with no lights or communications coming from the aircraft at all. This causes the CDC to call in their Canary Unit (headed by Doctors Ephraim Goodweather and Nora Martinez) to check shit out. What they find is *DUN DUUN DUUUUUUUUNN!* Everybody be dead. From the passengers to the pilots. Well, there are 4 survivors, but they are totally fucked up by something strange too.

Eph and Nora slowly discover that some supernatural shit is going down in their town, especially when a giant coffin filled with dirt that was transported on the flight disappears from a secured hangar, oh, and especially, especially when the "dead" passengers start rising, walking around, and sucking people's blood. Eph and Nora are disbelieving fools at first, but they start to see some crazy shit that can't be explained by modern science and medicine, and begin to conclude that an epidemic of vampirism is starting with New York City as ground zero.

Soon our two CDC protagonists get some much needed help (and explanations) by way of elderly (and quite badass) Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian, who has been hunting "The Master" vampire since his days in a German concentration camp in his youth, when the ancient one fed on the captured Jews like a smorgasbord of human plasma. Setrakian has been studying The Master's ways, weaknesses, and goals for decades since escaping that camp, and he arms Eph and Nora (and soon the grumpy exterminator Vasily Fet) with both knowledge and silver weapons that The Master and his progeny are deathly allergic to.

The Strain - The MasterThe old guy explains that vampirism is caused by a small parasitic worm that multiplies quickly in the human body and actually reconstructs the insides of its victims making them crave human blood, grow disgusting stingers on their now elongated tongues (that they can shoot out of their mouths several feet), and makes them terribly allergic to sunlight. He tells our heroes that these are not the creatures of fairy tales, but scientifically and naturally-occurring beings that typically know their place in the world, ruled by a set of 7 ancient vamps who created everything else vampiric after them. 3 Ancients still rule the Old World in Europe, 3 came to the New World and reside in the States, and one rogue one, The Master, has been doing his best to overthrow both sets of rulers and take over the world for himself for millennia.

The vampiric plague that is rapidly taking over New York is not being taken seriously by those who have the power and authority to stop it (or else they've been bought off by The Master's super rich human collaborator, Eldritch Palmer), and our rag tag group of vampire slayers quickly finds itself drowning in a sea of hungry undead, while they try to save their loved ones and then take their fight to the lead vampire himself, wherever he may be hiding.

Like I said in the beginning, the first book is really fun. It's not the best written novel of all time, nor is it the best supernatural story I've ever had the pleasure to read, but it's very entertaining and it adds a pretty cool, pretty disturbing new dimension to the tired and old vampire motifs. I liked the idea of The Master, and his plan and the execution of his takeover were well played (even though at the time I wondered about his whole end-game, and why a vampire would want to take over the world — turning everyone in it into a vampire seemed like a bad idea for the food supply to me). Our heroes (Eph, Nora, Fet, and Setrakian) were very cool, smart (no stupid decisions coming from them in order to advance the plot), and very likable, and their struggles to either warn the world or stop the threat by themselves was admirable.

Other than a couple of awkwardly set-up situations where it took me a few seconds of reading to figure out what the writers were trying to talk about, I have no complaints with this novel, and it really made me want to continue with the plot. And so I then picked up.....

Book Two: The Fall

The Fall sucks (pun intended, if you want it to be), except for like the last 30 pages, where it almost totally redeemed itself. The Fall picks up almost exactly where The Strain ended, and it doesn't really progress that far or tell us anything new up until the very end. It's basically just one large chase sequence where characters try to flee The Master's ever-growing domain of influence, or they try to get ahold of an ancient book plated in silver that supposedly holds the secrets of the Ancients and how to kill them once and for all (the Occido Lumen).

A minor character from the first book (a Latino gangsta' named "Gus" who was recruited by the three New World Ancients to kill The Master) plays a much bigger and more kick-ass role in The Fall, helping our heroes out of lots of pinches they find themselves in, and with him comes The Silver Angel, a rather large ex-Mexican wrestler who is quite honestly my favorite character in the series. But these new peeps really don't help the flow of things this time around when NOTHING of importance happens until the last few pages, and the whole drama is stretched out waaaaaay too long. Honestly, The Fall should have just been a few more (much abbreviated) chapters at the end of The Strain.

The Fall is also when the already set-up "science" behind the vampires and their abilities is slightly pushed into the realm of mystic powers and origins. We're shown The Master's grand plan and how it involves destroying the other 6 Ancients. The plan is quite ingenious, but at the time it made little sense. I'll spoil the shit out of it since I just don't care anymore.

The Master in The Strain trilogyOkay, so the Ancients are top of the line vampires — every other bloodsucker on the planet comes from them — and although they have silver and sunlight weaknesses, they can withstand them and they appear to be nigh but invulnerable. One true and sound way to eliminate them though is to utterly destroy the land from which they were born. This idea of "land they were born from" was intentionally left vague, but The Master's set-up of a bunch of programmed-to-fail nuclear reactors (through super billionaire Eldritch Palmer's companies) over six plots of earth around the globe (some in the US, some in Asia, etc) just made me say "Whaaaaaaaaa?" We were told quite straight forwardly that the Ancients are all several thousand years old and that they originally came from Europe. It was also explained that the three who traveled the Atlantic to the New World only did so in the last few hundred years.... So how could their birth land be New York State or China? And how could a bloodborne creature like the virus-worms start from seven different, vastly spaced-out locations?

Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), I was let down by The Fall, even with its much improved ending. This ending did give me hope for the final book, The Night Eternal, but it took me a few months to build up my care enough to want to finish this thing.

Book Three: The Night Eternal

Finally, I thought when I first began this novel, things actually fucking HAPPENED! The last book in this series begins 2 years after the finale of The Fall. The world has been taken over by The Master and his (actually relatively small) hordes of telepathically-controlled "turned." A third of the human population (leaders, the strong-willed, and the powerful men and women of society, along with the useless elderly) have been killed, and the remaining people have either been turned into blood-cattle, or allowed to continue living under a vampiric police state still producing, still watching TV, still doing what they did before... Just under The Master's constantly vigilant eye.

Due to setting off a lot of nukes at the end of The Fall, the Earth is suffering from a light nuclear winter with almost constant cloud cover; the perfect living conditions for vampires (just don't ask how food for the rest of the enslaved population is grown with no sunlight). The Master is ruling things with a pale, iron fist, but Eph and his crew are still fighting the good fight and doing their best to translate the acquired Occido Lumen in order to find The Master's birthplace and use an old Russian nuke to send him to the afterlife... Or the after-afterlife as it is.

This setup and the changes it brought with it really got me jazzed! I loved the visuals of post-apocalyptic, but still functioning Earth, and I thought The Master's fulfilled plan was quite genius... But the main characters that I had come to either love (or at least appreciate) were all transformed in the space of the two years between The Fall and The Night Eternal, to the point where they were either pill-addicted whiners, or hateful assholes. Yeah, I can get behind the idea that living on the lam in a vampire-run police state would take its toll on even the strongest characters, but SOME likability needs to remain in order for the reader to empathize with them and their plights! I found about 100 pages into The Night Eternal that I just didn't care if Eph, Fet, and Nora succeeded or failed, especially when Eph was considering turning traitor and selling his friends and partners out to The Master because Nora pretty much dumped Eph for living in a Vicoden-laced dream world, and because The Master was keeping Eph's douche-nozzle son alive in order to take over his body when he gets a little older.

But the biggest reason I started to hate the living mung out of this book is because all of a sudden, the vampires are indeed creatures of magic and fallen angels, and not science. There's an old trope that good writers try to live by, and it goes a little something like this: never pull in supernatural elements to solve a problem or move a story forward if you have previously created a world where you have not even mentioned occult happenings or heavenly powers at any point. That's just a cheap way out. Before this point, we were told that everything to do with vampires was that of an organic parasitic worm. In an instant they became demonic magical worms from Hell. Ugh...

Through detailed flashbacks we're shown how Archangel Azrael went mad with bloodlust after God had his minions smite the fuck out of Sodom and Gomorrah, and he ripped out the throat of a fellow Archangel and sucked all of his silvery blood from his body. Then God was like "Whaaaaaa?! Why did you do that? Oh, fuck it, other angels, KILL AZRAEL!" And they did. And these other angels ripped Azrael's body into 7 pieces and flung them to the 7 corners of the world where they were buried by the impact. But eventually the blood from those body parts seeped up through the ground and formed the vampiric blood worms (as is wont to happen), and they took over their eventual human hosts and they became the Ancients.

The Strain - The MasterAt this point I was ready to just give up. Characters were doing things so far off their already established personalities, and then all this talk of literal Archangels and shit. But I continued just because I came so far already. And then, one of the oldest and most intelligent characters does something soooooo outlandishly stupid and unwarrantedly retarded that I almost threw the book to the ground, set it on fire, buried the ashes, and then pissed on its grave. Oh my god...

So our heroes are very close to the end game. They have a nuke, a detonator, and the location of The Master's birth-site (which The Master himself doesn't even know). They can win this... But then they INTENTIONALLY let a vampire-sympathizer go from their grasp so that he can tell The Master about their plan.... Their reason? They want the dark lord to fear them... Even though The Master has an army of planes and helicopters and whatever the fuck else he needs to stop our protagonists before they complete their 300+ mile journey and set off the nuke. The Master also has a psychic-connection with every vampire's eyes and ears along whatever path our heroes need to take to get to their goal. Of fucking COURSE The Master beats them to the island of his creation! And of course he brought every sub-boss villain in this tale with him for the ultimate showdown. It was just the sloppiest setup to the climax of any story I had read in a long, long time.

My only guess as to why del Toro and Hogan wrote it like this was because they realized "Oh fuck... Our gang has all they need to finish The Master.... And they can do it without him even knowing what they're up to... But that's boring.... Should we rewrite things to make it more plausible but just as engaging? Wait! The deadline for the finished draft is when? Well fuck it. Nobody'll notice we used stupidity to move the plot along."

I noticed. And fuck them for it. Especially after how smart these characters had been in the first book.

The final finale ending was okay, once you got past the stupid setup, but it was hardly enough to pull the whole story out of the nosedive it had been in till about 20 pages into the final novel. One thing that made me have to bite my tongue to keep from screaming out in mental anguish though was (SPOILERS... Like you give a shit anymore) when they set off the nuke, The Master gets fried, but then two giant Archangels descend from the Heavens and meet a resurrected and completely healed Azrael Archangel, and then they just take him back with them to the next world....

I'm fucking serious. This happened. People actually wrote this and it got published. It was some of the gheyest imagery I've ever seen described. So many things are wrong with this wrap-up, the number one being: so God apparently forgave Azrael for eating one of his top-tier Angels, and then killing off 1/3 of the Earth's population (even though Azrael never even asked for forgiveness in the first place), and then gave him his celestial body back and let him back into Heaven? So, is there no Hell? Does everyone get a free pass to make it into Heaven when they die just because? The number two thing wrong with this is that IT'S FUCKING RETARDED. It's bad Catholic school fan-fiction without any regard for actual Catholic Dogma and mythology.

SPOILERS OVER

Anyway, so yeah, there you go. I won't even talk about the TV series based on these books, and their hideous makeup jobs for creatures like The Master (who looks like a slightly mongoloid love child of Skeletor and Legolas). I'll just leave this review at the books.

All in all, I thought that The Strain Trilogy had a good beginning, a lame middle, a slightly less lame later middle, a great beginning to the end, and then a really stupid ending. I cannot recommend these books. Go read 'Salems' Lot or Carpe Jugulum for good vampire stories. I give The Strain Series 12 out of 46 Fangs of Ferocity. It just didn't quite have the BITE I was hoping for. It was quite the STRAIN to get through....... Ha ha ha, ha ha ha haha ha, aha ha ah ha ha... Ha.


CHI-CHI MacGee

So this thing is three whole books? Fuck that. I'll wait for the movies... What's that? They made a TV show for it? Cool, cool... What's that? Those pictures of that the Rossman showed me of a slightly mentally-handicapped-looking pale elf with no nose are pictures of the big bad vampire in the TV show?....

Wow. Looks like somebody figured out how to actually get me to stop watching TV. Hell, not even 27 "seasons" of Survivor could do that.

Looks lame. No thanks.


TAMMI WITH AN "i"

Ah just love The Walkin' Dead, and Ah love trashy books like The Sookie Stackhouse series, and Ah just love anythin' to do with the supernatural, so Ah checked out these three books long before the Rossman even picked 'em up. True, the vamps in The Strain ain't all that handsome or sexy, but they're strange and kind of badass.... And that tongue thing does sound kinda sexy.

Ah really liked how the main characters weren't stupid teenagers too. Two were brainy scientists, one was a really smart old guy, one was a street-smart exterminator, and one was a latino gang member who pretty much knew more about life and shit than all the others combined. And the main bad guy, the super vamp, he was really smart too. Ah've never heard of a vampire using dirty bombs caused by nuclear power plant meltdowns as a weapon against his enemies. Sharp that!

These books kind of reminded me of that time we had a vampire comin' around the trailer park a few years back. That fucker was all kinds of blood-lusty as he pounced on a bunch of stray dogs and Mary Lynn Sue, and then proceeded to hump them till they howled, like a coked-up meth-head..... Waitaminute. Was that just Meth-head Matt who did that? That would explain the fingernail-raking he got on his face and why all the park dogs ran in fear from him after that incident.

Ah liked these books. Good characters, lots of blood, and a lot of badass vampire huntin' goin' down in them. Two Tammi Thumbs Up!