Against all odds, I have met my deadline in Week 1! I couldn’t be prouder than if I had actually spread all 300-some pages throughout the week, instead of buckling down and finishing two-thirds of The Fall yesterday. But hey, a deadline met is a deadline met. At the very least, I was fortunate to start with a page-turner, so I didn’t end up guzzling coffee all day Saturday while trying to pound through 200 pages of dense prose.
Now, The Fall is the second in a series, so in a way it’s an awful title to start this project, sort of like beginning a comedy set with an inside joke. But since I’ve been waiting for this book for about a year, I had little choice but to begin it immediately after it was released. Don’t worry, I’ll fill you in.
The Fall, like its predecessor, is about vampires. Now wait. Before you get all huffy—”But Kira, I’m so sick of vampires!”—I’ll say that it really could be about any virus or plague or epidemic; just so happens vampires are an apt analogy (hence its immediate association for me with Max Brooks’ World War Z, which is as much “about zombies” as World War II was). Without giving away too much of the first book, The Strain, which I highly recommend and you would need to read before this one, let’s just say that an ancient virus comes to New York via plane, infects a bunch of people, and proceeds to take over the city. A ragtag cast of characters—the head of the Centers for Disease Control, a local exterminator, a pawn shop proprietor who knows a creepy amount about ancient curses and shit, etc.—come together through various means and begin hatching a plan to save the city, or at the very least themselves. Already you should be intrigued since, if you’re anything like me, your first move once the Vampire Apocalypse starts will be to hole up in a tanning salon (it’s the UV rays that get them, right?) or try hoofing it to the sunniest town in Florida. I am not a fighter.The Fall picks up where The Strain left off, which is to say the city is in shambles and our group of protagonists has moved on from assembling themselves to developing a game plan for defeating the select few behind the epidemic (and it is a plague born of malicious intent, believe you me). Though the suspenseful and altogether inconclusive ending of the first book meant I was waiting like a kid on Christmas in anticipation of The Fall, it’s worth noting that pretty much a year has passed since The Strain came out. I appreciate that this, the second book in the anticipated trilogy, puts us right back into the action, but at the same time it took me a few pages to remember everything from the inaugural title, and a good third of the book to truly recapture the suspense of The Strain.
Once I did, The Fall is an easy read: high-action, mixed in with sprinkling of select vampire lore. In this case: sun, silver, coffins – yes. Garlic, mirrors, capes – not so much.
There are some parts of The Fall that didn’t sit well with me, mostly to do with what I felt was a disparity between how New York City was reacting to the epidemic and how I personally think they would. Overall, it lacks consistency. (The police force has basically shut down, but trains are still running out of Penn Station? Trains barely run out of Penn Station when it rains.) Similarly, one of the characters apparently takes time to write a blog during the adventures, which frankly makes no sense and seems like a vague attempt to play up that this is happening in 2010. Additionally, although there’s plenty of action in the book, eventually it’s hard not to feel like “Well so OK, they’re vampires, got that. Now what?” Maybe it’s the two-hour time limit of natural disaster movies, but we’ve come to expect some resolution a little sooner than 900 collective pages in. One can only assume that will come in the third and final book, due out next year.
Of course, something I read 200 pages of in just a few hours can’t be all bad. The fighting scenes in The Fall are excellent, and perhaps more excellent are some of the pages devoted to the “ancient” vampires, who are in various ways behind the current state of affairs. Hogan and del Toro also make some interesting philosophical and/or moral arguments throughout the book, the kind of stuff that makes you wonder if in addition to global warming, mass genocide and other atrocities, man might also eventually be responsible for a vampire takeover of the world. If so, I now have several books to turn to for guidance.
For me at least, some of the novelty of the series wore off in the last 12 months (maybe because of the proliferation of vampire-related books/movies/shows in the meantime) and The Fall ends up feeling a lot like a placeholder between its introduction and inevitable conclusion. Character development is kind of an afterthought, I assume because the cast was introduced in the first book, but since so much time has passed, it would have been nice to reconnect with the group a little. That said, if you’re looking for some blood and guts and stingers and fairly excellent visuals that made me reconsider eating oatmeal while reading, then I say go for it.
TITLE: The Fall: Book Two of the Strain Trilogy
AUTHOR(S): Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
PAGES: 320 (in hardcover)
ALSO WROTE: The Strain: Book One of the Strain Trilogy
SORTA LIKE: World War Z meets The Host
FIRST LINE: “It took the world just sixty days to end.”