Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Night Eternal

by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan


Things are looking bad for the human race in The Night Eternal, the third part of the Strain trilogy. Nuclear winter has transformed the world's ecosystem, swathing the world in a thick dust cloud and knocking humans firmly off the top of the food chain. People are treated as cattle, herded into camps and farmed for their blood by hideous strigoi, led by a single master vampire. The great and the good have been executed, along with the old and sick, and only a few pockets of resistance hang on, hiding out like cockroaches avoiding the exterminators.

For Ephraim Goodweather and his small band of collaborators, giving in is not an option. He has every reason to lose hope, with his son in the hands of the vampires and the long nights of fighting and hunger taking a toll on his health. They are the last of the free humans, and they barely register as a threat to the Master, who believes their end is only a matter of time. However Fet, a former rat catcher, has found a weapon that might turn the tide, if only they can uncover the secret of where to deploy it before the last pockets of resistance are erased.

Although they face a common enemy, the humans are divided amongst themselves. The temptation for them to give in and accept servitude has never been stronger, so they are all paranoid about traitors and weak links in their ranks. The humans' strongest ally is himself part-vampire. Ephraim is aware of a growing relationship between Fet and his former colleague and one-time lover Nora, but he's also preoccupied with the absence of his son. Meanwhile Zach is fighting on a different front as the Master tries to win him over, but what does the evil old vamp really have planned for the young man?

There's a lot going on in this story, all of it set against the grim backdrop of a ruined world. People are trying to hold on not only to their lives, but also to what it means to be human. There's an interesting parallel between the tunnel-dwelling saboteur Gus and Nora as they both struggle to care for parents who are in some ways lost to them. They try to give the doomed dignity and respect, even if it's a lost cause. Similarly there are characters who have abandoned all humanity for an easy life, versus those who remain morally uncorrupted but live in desperate circumstances. Fathers and sons are divided by the conflict, and family members are often forced to choose between survival and self-sacrifice.

Modern terrors like radiation, guns and strange viruses contrast with a dose of Biblical scholarship and ancient history. It's a wonder they sit together so well, but I found the asides about angels and so on something of a relief. It's a welcome change of tone from the rest of the relentlessly adrenalised story. Most of this book is extremely suspenseful, edge-of-the-seat, unputdownable reading of the kind that will keep you up too late at night. However I think it takes the heavy action a little too far. There's a huge explosion later in the book that struck me as quite hackneyed, and the humans often seem to be surrounded by hostile vampires that inexplicably fail to bite a realistic number of them once they get close, if they get to sink their stingers in at all. It stretches credibility that the enemy can be simultaneously fearsome and yet so stupid and slow, or such bad shots.

Nevertheless The Night Eternal is a successful novel. It sinks its teeth into some meaty concepts, glories in the horror of concentration camp New York, pumps blood and bullets with abandon, and rips our hearts out at the end.

29th October 2011

Book Details

Year: 2011

Categories: Books

  Not For The Squeamish  

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Guillermo del Toro