The Night Eternal by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Okay, I shouldn’t have to say this, but: Beyond this point are MAJOR spoilers for the first two books in The Strain Trilogy. If you haven’t read the first two books, you should click on the link in the last sentence.
On with the show.
The Strain series started off great. In the first book, the authors recreate the classic Dracula scene with the death ship Demeter, but in this century, its a Boeing 777 dead on the tarmac, and naturally we nowadays are less concerned about a plague than about terrorists. The build up in the first two books as Ephraim Goodweather and Nora Jones of the CDC, the Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian, the exterminator Vasily Fet, and others slowly learn the scope of what they are facing, and just how insurmountable their odds are, is great. You grow to love these characters. And, in a change from most vampire books, you have no sympathetic feelings towards the monsters themselves (making the vampires overlarge human ticks who shit while they eat certainly helps forestall any tender feelings).
So bring on the final installment! We come in two years after the events of The Fall. The Master has brought nuclear winter down upon the earth, humans have been herded into blood camps or forced to work to support the continuation of the series. The vampires have won.
And Ephraim is lost. We find Eph, now basically a drug addict hobo, spending a night in his ex-wife’s old house, feeling depressed about not knowing where his son, Zack, is (let’s remember that Kelly, the ex-wife in question and vampire, kidnapped Zack in the last book). Little does he know that Zack is being groomed by the Master to be his new vessel. Meanwhile, Nora, Fet, and a few others are trying to continue to fight. That is, when they’re not being screwed over by Eph’s unreliability.
So basically, the human race has lost. Setrakian is dead, Ephraim Goodweather is falling apart, Nora, Fet, and the others are left to try to pick up the pieces of the revolution as best they can, but things look grim. Only a really, really, REALLY desperate final plan has a chance to destroy The Master and save the human race.
So far I’m enjoying this. I always like a post apocalyptic spin, and Ephraim Goodweather’s fall from grace is a logical progression of his flawed character. I also like how the other characters continue to grow in the third installment. After all, this series is really about family (Seriously, forget about the vampires, everything everyone does in this book ties back to their family in some way). Even the vampires with their “dear ones” fall into the family theme.
At some point, however, the book goes off the rails. The action is gripping, the suspense nail-biting at times, the ick factor is still present, but as the group seeks out the origins of The Master in order to destroy it, the plot up and takes itself way off the reservation. I like to keep my reviews as spoiler free as possible, so I’m trying to decide on the best way to describe this without giving anything away. Suffice it to say this: that apparently having vampirism as a disease or literal wormy parasite is no longer cool or creepy enough. When we learn where The Master comes from, the authors threw in a huge curveball, and I, for one, was unimpressed. I found it way better when the explanation was “nature is a fucked up bitch sometimes.” The thought that there didn’t need to be an origin story, that this horrible thing arose from some primordial soup and was hurled against us by the forces of nature we’d prefer to ignore, THAT was scary. Because something like that could happen. By taking things where they did, the authors lessened the visceral fear that some monster plague (figurative) could come sweeping out of the sky in the form of a Boeing 777 and presage the end of the human race.
Ah well. In all, if you read the first two books of the series, you should still read this one, if only to complete the trilogy. But I’d lay odds that you’re going to come away a bit disappointed. There were a lot of good things in this book, but the origin story they ultimately came up with for The Master is disappointing enough that it more or less overshadows everything else in the book. If you haven’t read the series, and are reading this review anyway (shame on you), don’t let this review stop you from picking up the first two books in the series. They’re some of the best vampire fiction to come out in the past few years (no one sparkles, bonus!).