Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan have written/are writing a vampire trilogy that some have dubbed "The Anti-Twilight." Titled The Fall it picks up pretty much where the previous (first) novel left off. New York City has been infected by a kind of vampiric disease, a mutating virus spread by worms that rewrites the victims' DNA into a kind of gigantic insect. They still look more-or-less human. Kinda/sorta. Unless you get a good look at the red eyes, the hairless and earless head. Or their hands. If they open their mouths, the illusion is gone. A four-foot fleshy stinger awaits its chance to burrow into a victim and draw out blood like a mosquito.
The Fall marks a deliberate attempt to tell a tale of horror. For the record, the writers succeed. The unnamed (at first) Master Vampire behind this plague threatening to destroy New York has much more in common with The Master from Buffy than the same-named villain from Doctor Who. He is a demon, a towering giant of viciousness with the patience of long years and centuries to plan. He is one of seven original Vampires, but the one gone most rogue. Interestingly, he is also the one most capable of seeing humanity's potential, of using what (to him) are just wonderful human ideas.
Like concentration camps.
Much of the novel consists of racing against time by our lead characters, unraveling a few of the mysteries about vampires and what The Master seems to be aiming for. As other cities begin to suffer the fate of New York, one looms most large--what is The Master's ultimate plan? He clearly doesn't want to turn all humanity into vampires. That would be stupid, and suicidal. So what is his goal? The Van Helsing-like Abraham Setrakian believes he knows a way to find out. More, to learn a key to snatching some kind of victory from the gore-drenched jaws of holocaust. It all lies in an incredibly rare book based on an obscure Mesopotamian text, a tome said to contain the origins of the Ancients, the seven eldest vampires of all.
Eph Goodweather, former head of the CDC and now a fugitive from forces allied to The Master, struggles not only to find a way to help stop a plague but to protect his beloved son from his vampirized ex-wife. Making up a third is Vasily Fet, one-time professional exterminator and now very effective vampire-hunter. How the lives of all these characters tend to intertwine in fascinating ways is part of what makes the novel so much fun. A few in-jokes are a little much (if you're familiar with Mexican wrestler Santo movies, you'll soon see what I mean--but it works). The overall impact is a dizzying roller-coaster ride through an intricate chamber of horrors.
Yes, I know that is a mixed metaphor. I don't care.
One thing that continues to bother me is the treatment of the characer Nora, Eph's co-worker as well as once-and-future lover. In the first novel The Strain she was something of a cypher. We get to know her a little bit better in this film, including some hint of a tendency to place herself in orbit around others. But at heart she's a secondary character, nothing more. I admit to a prejudice towards stories with stronger female roles.
Elsewhere I've complained a bit about how some authors pull their dramatic punch. Not in this book! One expects our heroes to somehow save the day. They don't. They survive, most of them. They come together towards a greater goal. They do accomplish things, vital things. Indeed, one can almost see the seeds of ultimate victory against The Master might have been sewn in these pages. But if this were the story of World War Two, the novel ends with the fall of France and the Nazi blitz of London beginning its reign of death onto London. As Eph and Nora are joined by Fet and the former gang-member Gus, as they watch the dominoes set up by The Master's plan begin to fall one-by-one, we can only hope this is the darkest hour.
It probably is not. Hogan and Del toro accomplish what relatively few authors manage to do--surprise me. They have primed my anticipation and hopes that one year from now I'll be writing another review in equally glowing terms.