The Night Eternal By Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan
The Strain trilogy opened with an authentic wow moment: a Boeing 777 arrives at JFK airport with all but four of the passengers dead in their seats. The flashlight beams of the first responders “registered dully in the dead jewels of their open eyes.” Not much later these corpses begin to rise from their morgue slabs, and a plague of blood-hungry predators overwhelms New York. The first hundred pages of The Strain is a sustained exercise in terror that held this reader in spellbound delight, because del Toro and Hogan write with crisp authenticity about both the fantastical (vampires) and the completely real (New York City, with all its odd nooks and crannies).
What began in The Strain comes to a sublimely satisfying conclusion in The Night Eternal. Del Toro and Hogan have taken Dracula, the greatest vampire tale of them all, and deftly turned it inside out. In Stoker’s novel, Bloodsucker Zero arrives in England on a sailing ship called the Demeter. As with the Regis Air 777, the Demeter is a ghost ship when it reaches port, the eponymous Count having snacked his way across the ocean. The difference is that Dracula is confronted by a heroic band of vampire-hunters who eventually drive him from England by using modern technology—everything from diaries kept on wax recording cylinders to blood transfusions. In The Strain Trilogy, the body-hopping Master—who arrives at JFK in the person of Polish nobleman Jusef Sardu—uses the very technology that defeated his honorable forebear to destroy the civilized world. Big corporations are his tools; modern transportation serves to spread the vampire virus; nuclear weapons usher in a new era of pollution and atmospheric darkness.
Only jolly old England escapes; the wily Brits have blown up the Chunnel early on, and remain relatively vampire-free. At moments like this, the reader senses del Toro and Hogan tucking their tongues in their cheeks and having a gleeful blast.
When speaking of the New World Order in Henry the Sixth, Shakespeare has one of his characters say, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” As The Night Eternal opens, the Master (currently having traded the body of Sardu for that of rock star Gabriel Bolivar) doubles down on that, ordering his minions to kill not just those in the legal profession but all the CEOs, tycoons, intellectuals, rebels, and artists. “Their execution was swift, public and brutal. Out they marched, the damned, out of the River House, the Dakota, the Beresford and their ilk…in a horrific pageant of carnage, they were disposed of.”
With the exception of heroic pawnbroker/scholar Abraham Setrakian (who almost destroyed the Master in Volume Two, The Fall), the winning cast of human characters from the previous novels are all present and accounted for: Nora Martinez, who has traded in her scientist’s microscope for a silver sword; Vasily Fet, who now exterminates vampires instead of rats; Augustin “Gus” Elizade, once a gangbanger and now a hero of resistance. There’s also the less-than-admirable but fascinating (in a repulsive way, it’s true) Alfonso Creem, with his insatiable appetite and his vampire-repelling mouthful of silver teeth.
And there’s Eph Goodweather, the epidemiologist around whom all these others revolve. When The Night Eternal begins, two years after the Master has used nuclear weapons to create vampire-friendly darkness all over the planet, Eph has fallen on hard times. His undead ex-wife stalks him relentlessly (he is, after all, one of her “Dear Ones”), his son has become a rifle-toting, obsessive-compulsive acolyte of the Master, and Eph himself has started popping Vicodin and oxycodone. Nora has left him for Vasily Fet, and Eph is viewed with distrust by those who used to rally around him. Justifiable distrust; he keeps showing up late for meetings and vampire-killing gigs.
Fet has managed to purchase a rogue nuke (it’s wrapped in garbage bags and looks like a trashcan), and the resistance fighters have a sacred book that may—if deciphered—lead them to the Black Site where the Master’s earthly life began. If they can destroy that holy soil, they believe the vampire plague will end.
There’s a certain amount of perhaps dispensable hugger-mugger about vampires in Rome and archangels in Sodom, but the main attractions here are the resistance fighters’ fierce dedication to their cause, and Eph Goodweather’s slow and painful realization that if he destroys the Master, he may also destroy his son Zachary, the last person on earth he truly loves. Heroes of tragic dimension are rare in popular fiction, but Goodweather fills the bill nicely.
After a small (and perhaps unavoidable—see Tolkein’s The Two Towers) letdown in The Fall, The Strain Trilogy comes to a rip-roaring conclusion in The Night Eternal. The action is non-stop, and the fantasy element is anchored in enough satisfying detail to make it believable. All the New York landmarks, such as Central Park’s Belvedere Castle and The Cloisters, are real. And while you’re discovering such essential vampire facts as the undead’s inability to cross running water without human help, you’ll also find out that the stone lions outside the New York Public Library have names: Patience and Fortitude. Plus, come on, admit it—there’s something about seeing vampires massing for an attack in a Wendy’s parking lot that makes them more real. The devil’s in the details, and this is one devilishly good read full of satisfying scares. –Stephen King