There are two sides to every vampire. The first is the sensual, sexual half; the one that plays off the implied innuendo of exchanging the ultimate bodily fluid: blood. Then there’s the beast, the animalistic predator with an insatiable thirst and no soul or moral qualms to get in the way of its instincts. Nearly all depictions of bloodsuckers fall somewhere along this spectrum. True Blood favors the sloppy, sloshy, they-may-be-dead-but-their-libidos-sure-aren’t version, and so does Twilight, although there the sex and fang-hickeys are replaced by doe-eyes and lip biting.
Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain reached for the other end, with a vision of vampirism as a horrifying parasite not unlike its depiction in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend or the more recent The Passage by Justin Cronin. Their creatures of the night, for the most part, don’t invite you into their castle for dinner or implore you, “Have more vine, it’s a vonderful vintage.” Rather, they’re more like the hinge-jawed monsters of del Toro’s Blade II: just out to kill. And where The Strain was the beginning of del Toro and Hogan’s reimagining of the Dracula mythos—a Boeing 777 subbing for the Demeter—The Fall picks up right where it left off.
As much as I enjoyed the first novel, I have to say, I think I like this one better. The Strain suffered slightly from being too spread out, cutting between too many vignettes with too many individual characters. That would work if del Toro was making a movie where you have faces to look at and remember, but in a novel it can get difficult to keep track. Thankfully, the second entry keeps all of the great elements of The Strain (fast pace, strong mythology, nearly obsessive anatomical detail) while tightening up the number of story strings. The authors also open up the world of warring vampire factions, introducing more of that aristocratic, genteel, but still terrifying, side with the Ancients.
They aren’t the most literary vampire books ever written, but they have something that most modern bloodsucker fiction lacks: A love of the myth. To me what earns del Toro a spot on my list of Awesomest People Ever—a list I actually keep taped to the head of my bed so that I can get a taste of awesomeness each morning I wake up—is the fact that he transforms his subject matter through his sheer exuberance for it. It makes sense to me that they make Setrakian, their septuagenarian Van Helsing, a pawnbroker who sifts through mountains of ancient junk, occasionally finding an essential grimoire or a silver-backed mirror, since that’s essentially what they’re doing; picking and choosing their favorite bits from dusty tales and putting them to new use. That’s probably why the protagonist of del Toro’s quite excellent 1993 vampire film Cronos also deals in antiques. Occasionally draggy plotting aside, I’ve found this series to be a very solid vampire tale that serves as a good antidote to all the recent books and movies that have thinned the genre’s blood. And I love the fact that the authors draw from a long history of myth-making to make Sardu both a frightening amalgam of older superstitions and something newly terrible. As opposed to, say, a sparkly teenager.