Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Fall

by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan


Since Guillermo del Toro shares the writing credit, it's hard to read The Fall without imagining what kind of movie it would make. This sequel to The Strain takes place in a world rocked by a plague of vampirism. New York's infrastructure is failing badly and members of the emergency services have deserted their posts or been turned into blood-sucking fiends. It would certainly make for a splattery celluloid gore-gasm.

But this is a novel and not a film, with scope for all of the extra depth that entails. When the story opens the world hasn't entirely flushed itself down the toilet, and through ignorance or denial there are still some people who are trying to carry on as normal. Some people are only a little suspicious of the government's official line that the disturbances are merely riots. It's a drawn-out apocalypse where people have the chance to hope whilst the net tightens around them.

Abraham Setrakian leads a small band of people who are fighting for mankind's existence. As a concentration camp survivor and lifelong vampire hunter he knows more than most about the threat they face, but it still isn't enough. Why would the vampires risk exhausting their food source by turning so many people? Why do they feel safe enough to come out into the open now? And what is the aged billionaire Eldritch Palmer doing for them? Setrakian hopes he can find the answers to some of these questions, and the key to destroying the vampires, in an antique book called the Occido Lumen. Only getting his hands on this unique and apparently cursed tome won't be easy.

A pest exterminator, a couple of ex-CDC doctors and their remaining family members are a few of the survivors who follow Setrakian's lead. It's a disparate group of individuals, everymen and women faced with the chance to be heroic. They're more believable because most of them start out quite ordinary, with familiar problems. The Fall is filled with some very fantastic creatures and events, but it comes across as very credible thanks to the quality of the writing. It's fast-paced, and there's a touch of melodrama in a few of the later chapters, but never to the point where it makes the story seem absurd.

The vampires are partly influenced by undead in literature and film, but they're also largely the authors' own creations. Their infection spreads like a virus, but at the same time they look very alien, whilst at the same time they're as much magic as science with their psychic communications and master-and-slave bonds. There's more than a whiff of sulphur amongst the strong smell of ammonia they give off, like fallen angels.

The wicked Palmer hints at parallels between this novel and Philip K. Dick's The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, whilst the corruption of love that vampirism brings about and the strange symbolism the creatures paint on walls all become pieces of an intriguing puzzle. Hogan and Del Toro's monsters are brutal and implacable yet not mindless, and that makes them all the more sinister.

Intricate, dark and exhilarating, The Fall is the Apocalypse you always wanted but never thought you could afford.

15th September 2010

Book Details

Year: 2010

Categories: Books

  Not For The Squeamish  

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5 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Guillermo del Toro