Saturday, 13 November 2010

‘The Fall’ – Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan (Harper Collins)

I wouldn’t say I’ve given it a great deal of thought but, then again, I don’t really need to. The bottom line is this, vampires do not sparkle. Not only do vampires not sparkle but they certainly don’t spend time getting into intense relationships with humans either. Why is this? Because they’re vampires dammit! The only time a two hundred year old  vampire will be even remotely interested in a high school girl (or feisty yet vulnerable vampire hunter, you know the drill...) is when he needs to grab a bite to eat. How is being able to ‘sparkle’ going to help a vampire get his food (other than when people like me are laughing so hard that we can’t run away)? It isn’t and that’s why vampires don’t sparkle. Vampires are animals only interested in domination over the food chain...
This thinking has slowly but surely driven me away from most urban fantasy and back towards the vampires of horror fiction. The only problem is that there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of vampire fiction out there (at least, as far as I can tell). Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s ‘The Strain’ looked like it was going to buck this trend last year but I never got hold of a copy to see if this would prove to be the case. I wasn’t going to make that mistake a second time so when ‘The Fall’ was published back in September I made sure to get myself a copy to read.
It’s taken me a while to get round to ‘The Fall’ but it was worth the wait. That’s not to say it wasn’t without its faults though...

Following the events of ‘The Strain’, human incompetence and greed has seen the vampire infection take root in New York City and start to breed. The city is slowly falling apart under the strain and citizens must battle a menace that they can barely bring themselves to believe in.
Ephraim Goodweather couldn’t get the city officials to act on his suspicions and now he must do what he can to hold things together and deny the vampires their final foothold. However, despite the help of a motley gang of allies, Goodweather has a battle on his hands that will be lost one way or another. The vampire master is putting the final touches together on a plan decades old, a plan that no-one else will be able to fully grasp until it is too late. If this wasn’t enough for Goodweather to deal with, he must also work out how to stop his vampire ex-wife from doggedly pursuing their only son...

Every now and then I like to jump straight into the middle of a series and see how the book in question stands up in its own right. I never expect things to go one way or the other here; it’s just an interesting exercise really. In the case of ‘The Fall’ (middle book in a trilogy) I’d advise you all to go back and start right from the very beginning. There are brief passages that recall events from ‘The Strain’ but, overall, the assumption is made that you’ve read the first book and are good to go with the second. You can tell that ‘The Fall’ picks up things a matter of minutes after the closing events of ‘The Strain’ and the pace of those opening chapters doesn’t leave a lot of time for hangers on who have only just joined the party. That’s fair enough really, there’s a lot going on and there’s no time for needless info-dumps is there?

What had me more than a little bemused then was Del Toro and Hogan’s insistence on spraying the text with a whole load of other info-dumps. We’re talking about the history of a certain neighbourhood, character (I’m thinking of Angel here) or government organisation. This has the inevitable affect of slowing things up, more often than not when you know that things are about to get interesting. The pacing suffers badly at times and I was left wondering quite what the rationale was when the authors decided to go with these info-dumps instead of something that would have made the book more accessible to a casual reader picking the series up for the first time.

Once I got past this irritating feature though, I found ‘The Fall’ to be a very entertaining read; certainly a book that kept me reading with a description of vampire infestation that had me thinking of Robert McCammon’s ‘They Thirst’. The crumbling of life in Manhattan is portrayed superbly and really had me invested in finding out what happened to the characters who were trying to make their way through the chaos. When it all goes down, the fight scenes are also well choreographed and worth the price of entry. Del Toro and Hogan do well to have the vampires as physically superior but still able to die from a variety of means (apparently Del Toro was involved in the ‘Blade’ films and you can really see this here). This makes the fights more well matched and able to maintain interest in the reader. The authors are not afraid to get really down and dirty in these moments and you can almost feel the punches as they are thrown.

The outcome isn’t really in any doubt but that’s more to do with the fact that ‘The Fall’ is setting things up the finale in the next book. However, I didn’t like the inclusion of Goodweather’s diary entries in the book (there to explain how humanity initially collapsed in the face of the vampires). The fact that he’s writing them at some undetermined point in the future suggests an outcome to the story that I really don’t want to know just yet. I’d rather read the finale and find out myself...

‘The Strain’ isn’t without its flaws but (for the most part) rises above these to become a thoroughly entertaining vampire tale that shows it’s anaemic urban fantasy brethren just how it should be done. I may not have the time to go back and read the first book but I will definitely be around to see how it all ends...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

2 comments:

nicksharps13 said...

If you want to read a real book about monster killing pick up Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia

noothergods32 said...

See, I am right there with you in that I love vampire stories but hate the...stuff that comes out in most urban fantasy. Vampires don't sparkle, they don't fall in love with high-school girls, they eat people. Very glad to hear about a vampire story that does them justice.