Stimulus: Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan – The Fall
The second book in this new vampire trilogy is so much better than the first. While The Strain eventually found its legs, it suffered from a horribly awkward introduction, where the authors ham-fisted the world together with overbearing explanations. Luckily, The Fall hits the ground running and allows the reader to catch up in its own time.
As its title blatantly suggests, this book chronicles the time when everything goes to Hell. The Strain’s tale of creeping contagion bursts into full-scale disorder, yet the powers that be, for various reasons, do nothing. The heroes of the first book are first ignored and later vilified, as tends to happen in stories like this, and they must fight the story’s rogue vampire lord and unravel all mysteries on their own. All pretty typical, but an interesting element comes in the intervention of the rest of the king bloodsuckers, who aren’t pleased that their brother is scaring the straights. One of the story’s main characters is recruited by these ancients, assisted by a vampire-hunting vampire, and he draws together a hunting team comprised of street thugs and an old ex-luchador reminiscent of El Santo (by far the book’s best new addition).
The Fall’s greatest strength is its characterization. Del Toro and Hogan have hit their stride in keeping out of the narrative and filling this failing world with believable, well-fleshed people. This is especially true in the chapters detailing characters who don’t become a part of the greater struggle, who fall prey to the rampage in short order. To put so much background into doomed characters, and then to off them, creates a great sense of tension and uncertainty. So when the next character comes along, and the details of his or her life are given, one can’t help but become skeptical about that person’s chances. And then someone surprises the reader and triumphs.
With the already established characters, del Toro and Hogan guarantee nothing. While they don’t come anywhere close to clearing the slate, every character is placed in a position in which certain doom seems imminent. The authors’ skill is shown in how the humans handle these scrapes; there are no magical, unexplained escapes, but rather instances of dumb luck that shine faintly through the terror. The fact that a character survived one onslaught doesn’t mean that another one isn’t coming around the corner.
Not everything is sparkling; there’s a weird subplot thrown in involving nuclear reactors and a sappy message stating that a mother’s love is stronger than vampirism. But most of it works.
This vampire trilogy may have started rough, but its midpoint indicates that it’s only going to get better. The Fall is a quick and dirty vampire story that cuts out all the crap and leaves nothing but monsters and mayhem. Old school nastiness at its best.
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