The Passage did an Indiana Jones under the closing door that is my tolerance for vampire books


Clocking in at over 900 pages, The Passage tested my ability to finish a book in fewer than seven days (I lost). Fortunately for author Justin Cronin, I have an unlimited capacity for consuming page-turners late into the night, preferably while munching on Chex Mix. I see your gargantuan paperback, Mr. Cronin, and raise you a fistful of cheese-flavored pretzels bits. It took nine days, but I did it.

Where to begin. So The Passage centers on a government experiment being conducted on twelve willing participants (willing by virtue of the alternative: all are death row inmates) who the U.S. military hopes to turn into fast-healing, super-strong and generally un-killable soldiers. Of course, those of us familiar with a little thing called pop culture know how this ends: fucking vampires.

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Dead boring

Given that it’s almost True Blood season, I found myself moderately excited—moderately—for the newest Sookie Stackhouse book, Deadlocked, which came out earlier this month. I say moderately because I am of the humble opinion that Harris has been phoning it in for a few years now, and/or ran out of supernatural creatures to cast in her increasingly redundant series.

Phoning it in can be a death knell for any author—to be discussed further when I review the latest Augusten Burroughs book, whose lack of substance is depressing me greatly. But Harris—as much as I love the fact that she’s inadvertently generated one of the most ridiculously fun shows on television—didn’t have much room to fall. The Sookie Stackhouse books are like Anne Rice for dimwits, and rival Twilight for the title of worst-written vampire series of all time (editor’s note: I have read about three vampires series and thus am wildly unqualified to make this claim.)

In a nutshell, this is how a Sookie Stackhouse novel goes: 

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The end of the world as we know it

Christmas morning at the Bindrim household brought with it many surprises this year, chief among them a conspicuously shaped package that turned out to be the item I’ve simultaneously dreaded and anticipated recieving for months now: my very first Kindle.

I should say right off the bat—lest I come across as spoiled or ungrateful—that not even a prolonged resistance to e-readers could lessen my appreciation for my mom’s gift-giving. Whether or not I was ready to fork over my own money to join the reading revolution is beside the point. Which is to say that I don’t know if I could successfully identify a gift horse (like, scientifically speaking), but word is you’re not supposed to look them in the mouth.

To my mom’s credit, the Kindle I received is also lacking all the bells and whistles of the newer versions. It’s pretty much just books on a screen, with acess to the Amazon store. Also, no ads (thanks Mom!) As technological transitions go, she took it easy on me.

So before I get into the pros and cons of pressing buttons to turn pages, this week’s read was The Night Eternal, the third and final book in the vampire/plague trilogy co-written by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) and Chuck Hogan (The Town, book version.) Considering this is the first book I read on Kindle, it’s kind of fitting that The Fall, the second book in the trilogy, was the first book I reviewed on this site. It stands to reason that next year, Twilight 5: Winter Solstice will be the first book I read from the comfort of a flying car. It better be.

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The quick and the dead

I am alive!

I know you were worried; to be honest, so was I. A six-day bender with two friends/former Marines in town for Fleet Week meant not only was I not getting the enough reading done—about 12 collective pages last week—but there were moments when I thought not enough brain cells would survive for me to ever read again. At least not anything outside of Goosebumps.

To add insult to injury, said friends were staying in my apartment which, as I’ve mentioned, is fairly covered in unread books, many of which interested said friends and spawned conversations that made me stare longingly at my bookshelf and wish I were curled up with a novel instead of arguing with bouncers in the Meatpacking District over the merits of jorts as a fashion statement (I am decidedly in favor; they, not so much.) Long story short, my brief sojourn into the life of an actually sociable person was exciting, but I see myself at no point in the immediate future becoming the kind of girl who changes bars as often as I currently change positions on the couch.

Fortunately for us all, this week’s book was…let us just say, not so much a challenge. I mean, what does one say about the Southern Vampire Mysteries—(they’re called the Southern Vampire Mysteries, for fuck’s sake)—the 11-and-counting titles upon which HBO’s True Blood is based. They’re vapid and simplistic and, only a hop, skip and a jump away from erotica. They take the intellectual capacity of a 9-year-old to read, or dog of above-average intelligence. They’re repetitive—about 25% of each book is devoted to retelling the events of the book before—and undeveloped. Oh, and they’re prettay prettay good.

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I’ve done it!

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.”