Several years ago I heard whisperings about a possible new Vampire series on the cards by legendary film director Guillermo Del Toro. Del Toro is the mind responsible for bringing us Pan’s Labyrinth, among other things, and as an avid fan of that particular masterpiece I was delerious at the thought of a vampire-filled series by the man.

Alas, it wasn’t to be – at least, not then.

Unable to find sufficient backing to get his new TV show – titled The Strain – off the ground, Del Toro turned to another medium: books.

And The Strain trilogy was born.

Written in collaboration with Chuck Hogan, author of Prince of Thieves (another phenomenal novel), The Strain trilogy promised to be an epic addition to the vampel genre, and I was once again delirious with excitement to read it.

It didn’t disappoint. The style of the novel is a little too police-procedural in the opening for my liking. That said, it very quickly sets the scene of events and, once things are established, settles into far more lyrical prose which are – in places – truly beautiful to read. Hogan is an exceptional Thriller writer, and Del Toro’s dark, gothic, slightly melodramatic style shines through on every page. The novel is a delicious mix of thriller, action, and vampire mythology with a heavy dose of modern scientific thought. It wonderfully blends old-world views on vampirism and very obvious odes to the classics (in particular Bram Stoker’s Dracula), with the highly methodical and intelligent mind of modern scientists working for the Centre of Disease Control.

It doesn’t end there however, as the case of characters involved as the plot unfolds is truly remarkable, from the recovering-alcoholic scientist and his young son, ex-wife and current fling/co-worker, to the now-elderly hollocaust survivor come vampire hunter and the unlikely hero/pest exterminator they stumble across along the way. There are people from all walks of life and a vast array of cultures, all reacting differently to the situation and showing the huge spectrum of humanity that is on show in a modern city like New York.

The plot begins with the death of a plane and virtually everyone on board, as it arrives in New York with a mysterious and huge hand carved coffin, filled with dirt. The cause of death for the 206 souls lost aboard the flight is unknown, and the reason four survived undetermined. In a typical political twist, the powers that be ignore all warnings from the CDC team investigating and carnage ensues. As the city is plunged into mid-day darkness while the sun is completely eclipsed by the moon, the dead rise, and the survivors aid them in spreading ‘the strain’ throughout the city.

I did find the beginning slow going and a little messy – there’s a lot of jumping about between characters, a lot of jargon, a lot of baiting and switching and simultaneous predictability. But I had great faith in Del Toro and persevered, and I’m so glad I did!

The slow start is soon replaced by a plague of zombie-esque vampires roaming the city killing at random. Many are fed on, most who survive an attack are infected by the wormy parasites that spread the vampire plague.

But it doesn’t end there.

Some of the vampires are more evolved than others, retaining their human personalities and memories and evolving into extremely strong, fast, and ferocious creatures with great intelligence and unswerving loyalty to ‘The Master’.

Yep, you guessed it, he arrived in the funky coffin and is responsible for the weirdness on the plane.

It’s a lot more complicated than that, however, he has a plan, and human accolades, and it proves mighty difficult to convince anyone that the threat is real for a surprisingly long time. New York is effectively cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for itself. This is where Del Toro’s stunning ability to create astonishing creatures and detailed, believable, often macabre characters shines through. It’s gory, often gruesome, unrelenting and totally unforgiving.

A real page turner of a book (once it gets going) that refuses to be put down.

I’ll be reviewing the remaining two books in the trilogy in future weeks, before moving on the the TV series that did eventually happen off the back of the phenomenal success of these books!