Perhaps appropriate, the latest film in the “Twilight” franchise follows hot on the literary heels of a trilogy in some ways intended as its antithesis. Guillermo del Toro, the visionary film director behind “Hellboy” “Mimic” and “Pan’s Labyrinth,” makes no secret of his desire to see vampires portrayed as monsters. He openly rejected the more humane model of Anne Rice or even “Dark Shadows.” In fact his creatures bear a strong resemblance to the creatures in “Blade 2” which he also directed.
Similar, but not quite so…human.
Three Halloweens past, “The Strain” by del Toro and his writing partner Chuck Hogan hit bookshelves. Last year, a sequel titled “The Fall” emerged. Now we have “The Night Eternal.” Much like “Lord of the Rings” the third book is the most slender (which still makes it full-length) and feels pretty much like non-stop action.
As the book begins, years have passed since a band of intrepid vampire hunters managed to hurt and thwart the youngest of the seven mysterious Ancients from whom all vampires arose. At the cost of family and friends, and the death of their Van Helsing-like mentor, this creature was hurt, wounded, forced to take extreme measures to survive. It mattered not at all. New York City, it turned out, was but one target. Along with rampant infestations of vampires the world over, accidents were arranged in atomic reactors, bringing on a nuclear winter. Daylight lasts perhaps an hour a day now. Military officers, leading politicians, top artists and businessmen and distinguished individuals in general have been liquidated–publicly, their slaughter broadcast for all to see. Vampires now run the world, with a few collaborators’ help.
Monster vampires. Creatures devoid of most of what we would call mind, functioning as individual members of a hive. Rather than fangs, they have meter-long stingers with which they pierce, drain and infect. Rather than seducers, they resemble some horrific cross between a zombie and a giant tick. Seduction isn’t an option even if they had the interest. Transmutation takes away all signs of gender, inward and outward. One remnant of their former selves remains–a vague desire to bring former loved ones into the hive.
Welcome, to Hell on Earth.
Our heroes from the first two books for the most part remain alive, still dedicated to somehow overthrowing the New Order. Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, formerly of the Center for Disease Control, has lost his wife and child to the vampires. Not yet broken, he remains so frayed as to be almost useless, sometimes a real danger to his compatriots. Nora Martinez, his co-worker and then love interest, has left him for the more vital and less broken ex-exterminator Vasily Fet. In the latter’s hands lies their only real hope, an ancient tome the vampires had been desperate to attain prior to the Fall. It tells the strange origins of the vampire strain–and an impressive piece of mythology it is too! Harkening back to Sodom and Gamorrah (where, it turns out, the unforgivable sin of those cities was their rampant cruelty) and the angels sent to enact divine vengeance. It also explains why there were exactly seven Ancients, why destroying their points of origin wipe out each bloodline, and offer hints to precisely where the last of these important spots may be found (the last remaining Ancient having using nuclear fire to eliminate his fellows).
Too bad the most Ancient of all remaining vampires knows they have it!
I’m an admirer of Stephen King, and in some ways this book in particular reminds me of his work. The cultural references aren’t as pervasive, and the number of side stories nowhere near what King usually goes for. But the prose has a kind of naturalistic poetry to it. Plus the books mirror some aspects of King’s cosmology–a universe where evil is ultimately banal and petty, even if ingenious as well as mighty beyond words. One where the human spirit can break, but doesn’t necessarily. Vast tragedy brings out the best in us as well as the utter worst. Also a cosmos in which the Light does as little as it can, leaving the important decisions and efforts up to us, yet giving a nudge sometimes. A little hint left in the exactly correct spot. A message timed to offer hope when most needed.
“Dracula” pretty much inspired the start of this trilogy, with the arrival of a passenger jet devoid of life a la the schooner Demeter in Whitby. The ending feels similarly an echo, comprising as it does a chase across something like a wilderness (but not quite) where the mere mortals ultimately stand against the darkest of all predatory evils that actually walk. I’m reminded too of how Dracula’s face held a look of peace at the end. That doesn’t happen, but something kinda/sorta like it does.
A worthy conclusion to a startling post-apocalyptic vampire series. Well worth the read.