“A high-tech vampire epic....Terrifying.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Part The Andromeda Strain, part Night of the Living Dead.”—Salon.com
“Chuck Hogan is known for his taut thrillers, Guillermo del Toro for his surreal horror films…The Strain brings out the best of each.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
An epic battle for survival begins between man and vampire in The Strain—the first book in a heart-stopping trilogy from one of Hollywood’s most inventive storytellers and a critically acclaimed thriller writer. Guillermo del Toro, the genius director of the Academy Award-winning Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy, and Hammett Award-winning author Chuck Hogan have joined forces to boldly reinvent the vampire novel. Brilliant, blood-chilling, and unputdownable, The Strain is a nightmare of the first order.
About the Author
Guillermo del Toro is an Academy Award®–winning film director as well as a screenwriter, producer, and New York Times bestselling novelist. He is best known for his foreign fantasy films, especially Pan’s Labyrinth, and American mainstream movies like The Shape of Water. Del Toro has published multiple bestselling adult novels with HarperCollins, including The Strain, which was adapted into a TV series by FX, and he is the creator of Trollhunters, Netflix’s most-watched children’s series.
Chuck Hogan is the author of several acclaimed novels, including Devils in Exile and Prince of Thieves, which won the 2005 Hammett Award , was called one of the ten best novels of the year by Stephen King, and was the basis of the motion picture The Town.
Chuck Hogan es autor de varias aclamadas novelas, entre las cuales se encuentra Prince of Thieves que ganó el Hammett Award 2005 y que fue considerada una de las diez mejores novelas del año por Stephen King.
Read an Excerpt
Book One of The Strain Trilogy
The Legend of Jusef Sardu
Once upon a time," said Abraham Setrakian's grandmother, "there was a giant."
Young Abraham's eyes brightened, and immediately the cabbage borscht in the wooden bowl got tastier, or at least less garlicky. He was a pale boy, underweight and sickly. His grandmother, intent on fattening him, sat across from him while he ate his soup, entertaining him by spinning a yarn.
A bubbeh meiseh, a "grandmother's story." A fairy tale. A legend.
"He was the son of a Polish nobleman. And his name was Jusef Sardu. Master Sardu stood taller than any other man. Taller than any roof in the village. He had to bow deeply to enter any door. But his great height, it was a burden. A disease of birth, not a blessing. The young man suffered. His muscles lacked the strength to support his long, heavy bones. At times it was a struggle for him just to walk. He used a cane, a tall stick...taller than you...with a silver handle carved into the shape of a wolf's head, which was the family crest."
"Yes, Bubbeh?" said Abraham, between spoonfuls.
"This was his lot in life, and it taught him humility, which is a rare thing indeed for a nobleman to possess. He had so much compassion...for the poor, for the hardworking, for the sick. He was especially dear to the children of the village, and his great, deep pockets...the size of turnip sacks...bulged with trinkets and sweets. He had not much of a childhood himself, matching his father's height at the age of eight, and surpassing him by a head at age nine. His frailty and his great size were a secret source ofshame to his father. But Master Sardu truly was a gentle giant, and much beloved by his people. It was said of him that Master Sardu looked down on everyone, yet looked down on no one."
She nodded at him, reminding him to take another spoonful. He chewed a boiled red beet, known as a "baby heart" because of its color, its shape, its capillary-like strings. "Yes, Bubbeh?"
"He was also a lover of nature, and had no interest in the brutality of the hunt...but, as a nobleman and a man of rank, at the age of fifteen his father and his uncles prevailed upon him to accompany them on a six-week expedition to Romania." "To here, Bubbeh?" said Abraham. "The giant, he came here?"
"To the north country, kaddishel. The dark forests. The Sardu men, they did not come to hunt wild pig or bear or elk. They came to hunt wolf, the family symbol, the arms of the house of Sardu. They were hunting a hunting animal. Sardu family lore said that eating wolf meat gave Sardu men courage and strength, and the young master's father believed that this might cure his son's weak muscles."
"Their trek was long and arduous, as well as violently opposed by the weather, and Jusef struggled mightily. He had never before traveled anywhere outside his family's village, and the looks he received from strangers along the journey shamed him. When they arrived in the dark forest, the woodlands felt alive around him. Packs of animals roamed the woods at night, almost like refugees displaced from their shelters, their dens, nests, and lairs. So many animals that the hunters were unable to sleep at night in their camp. Some wanted to leave, but the elder Sardu's obsession came before all else. They could hear the wolves, crying in the night, and he wanted one badly for his son, his only son, whose gigantism was a pox upon the Sardu line. He wanted to cleanse the house of Sardu of this curse, to marry off his son, and produce many healthy heirs.
"And so it was that his father, off tracking a wolf, was the first to become separated from the others, just before nightfall on the second evening. The rest waited for him all night, and spread out to search for him after sunrise. And so it was that one of Jusef's cousins failed to return that evening. And so on, you see."
"Until the only one left was Jusef, the boy giant. That next day he set out, and in an area previously searched, discovered the body of his father, and of all his cousins and uncles, laid out at the entrance to an underground cave. Their skulls had been crushed with great force, but their bodies remained uneaten...killed by a beast of tremendous strength, yet not out of hunger or fear. For what reason, he could not guess...though he did feel himself being watched, perhaps even studied, by some being lurking within that dark cave.
"Master Sardu carried each body away from the cave and buried them deep. Of course, this exertion severely weakened him, taking most of his strength. He was spent, he was farmutshet. And yet, alone and scared and exhausted, he returned to the cave that night, to face what evil revealed itself after dark, to avenge his forebears or die trying. This is known from a diary he kept, discovered in the woods many years later. This was his last entry."
Abraham's mouth hung empty and open. "But what happened, Bubbeh?"
"No one truly knows. Back at home, when six weeks stretched to eight, and ten, with no word, the entire hunting party was feared lost. A search party was formed and found nothing. Then, in the eleventh week, one night a carriage with curtained windows arrived at the Sardu estate. It was the young master. He secluded himself inside the castle, inside a wing of empty bedrooms, and was rarely, if ever, seen again. At that time, only rumors followed him back, about what had happened in the Romanian forest. A few who did claim to see Sardu...if indeed any of these accounts could be believed...insisted that he had been cured of his infirmities. Some even whispered that he had returned possessed of great strength, matching his superhuman size. Yet so deep was Sardu's mourning for his father and his uncles and cousins, that he was never again seen about during work hours, and discharged most of his servants. There was movement about the castle at night...hearth fires could be seen glowing in windows...but over time, the Sardu estate fell into disrepair.
"But at night .?.?. some claimed to hear the giant walking about the village. Children, especially, passed the tale of hearing the pick-pick-pick of his walking stick, which Sardu no longer relied upon but used to call them out of their night beds for trinkets and treats. Disbelievers were directed to holes in the soil, some outside bedroom windows, little poke marks as from his wolf-handled stick."
His bubbeh's eyes darkened. She glanced at his bowl, seeing that most of the soup was gone.
"Then, Abraham, some peasant children began to disappear. Stories went around of children vanishing from surrounding villages as well. Even from my own village. Yes, Abraham, as a girl your bubbeh grew up just a half-day's walk from Sardu's castle. I remember two sisters. Their bodies were found in a clearing of the woods, as white as the snow surrounding them, their open eyes glazed with frost. I myself, one night, heard not too distantly the pick-pick-pick...such a powerful, rhythmic noise...and pulled my blanket fast over my head to block it out, and didn't sleep again for many days."
Abraham gulped down the end of the story with the remains of his soup.
"Much of Sardu's village was eventually abandoned and became an accursed place. The Gypsies, when their carriage train passed through our town, told of strange happenings, of hauntings and apparitions near the castle. Of a giant who prowled the moonlit land like a god of the night. It was they who warned us, 'Eat and grow strong...or else Sardu will get you.' Why it is important, Abraham. Ess gezunterhait! Eat and be strong. Scrape that bowl now. Or else...he will come." She had come back from those few moments of darkness, of remembering. Her eyes came back to their lively selves. "Sardu will come. Pick-pick-pick."
And finish he did, every last remaining beet string. The bowl was empty and the story was over, but his belly and his mind were full. His eating pleased his bubbeh, and her face was, for him, as clear an expression of love that existed. In these private moments at the rickety family table, they communed, the two of them, sharing food of the heart and the soul.
A decade later, the Setrakian family would be driven from their woodwork shop and their village, though not by Sardu. A German officer was billeted in their home, and the man, softened by his hosts' utter humanity, having broken bread with them over that same wobbly table, one evening warned them not to follow the next day's order to assemble at the train station, but to leave their home and their village that very night.
Which they did, the entire extended family together...all eight of them...journeying into the countryside with as much as they could carry. Bubbeh slowed them down. Worse...she knew that she was slowing them down, knew that her presence placed the entire family at risk, and cursed herself and her old, tired legs. The rest of the family eventually went on ahead, all except for Abraham...now a strong young man and full of promise, a master carver at such a young age, a scholar of the Talmud, with a special interest in the Zohar, the secrets of Jewish mysticism...who stayed behind, at her side. When word reached them that the others had been arrested at the next town, and had to board a train for Poland, his bubbeh, wracked with guilt, insisted that, for Abraham's sake, she be allowed to turn herself in.
"Run, Abraham. Run from the Nazi. As from Sardu. Escape."
But he would not have it. He would not be separated from her.
In the morning he found her on the floor of the room they had shared...in the house of a sympathetic farmer...having fallen off in the night, her lips charcoal black and peeling and her throat black through her neck, dead from the animal poison she had ingested. With his host family's gracious permission, Abraham Setrakian buried her beneath a flowering silver birch. Patiently, he carved her a beautiful wooden marker, full of flowers and birds and all the things that had made her happiest. And he cried and cried for her...and then run he did.
He ran hard from the Nazis, hearing a pick-pick-pick all the time at his back .?.?. And evil followed closely behind.The Strain
Book One of The Strain Trilogy. Copyright © by Guillermo Del Toro. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
What People are Saying About This
“A cinematic magician who has never lost his childlike sense of wonder.”
An Interview with the Authors
Q: Guillermo, you've written screenplays and directed numerous movies, just to name a few of your many accomplishments. What motivated you to write a novel?
Q: You are one of the most extraordinarily imaginative and creative thinkers working in the arts today. What were some of the influences that have contributed to your success? Do you have a muse?
GDT: Curiously enough I regularly draw more inspiration from painters and books than I do from other films. Painters like Carlos Schwabe, Odilon Redon, Félicien Rops, Arnold Bocklin, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Thomas Cole, and many others never fail to excite me. On the book front there are just as many authors; Charles Dickens does the trick every time as do Oscar Wilde, Juan Rulfo, and Horacio Quiroga, among others.
Q: Many of your movies have centered on fantastical characters. Why did you choose to write your first novel about vampires?
GDT: All of my life I've been fascinated by them but always from a naturalist's point of view. I wanted my first movie, Cronos, to be a rephrasing of the genre -- I love the rephrasing of an old myth. When I tackled Blade II, I approached it with a myriad of ideas about vampire biology but only a few of those made it into the film. Tonally, the movie needed to be an action film and some of the biological stuff was too disturbing already. I love the idea of the biological, the divine, and the evolutionary angles to explain the origin and function of the Vampire genus. Some of my favorite books about vampirism are treatises on vampire "fact," books by Bernard J. Hurwood, Dom Augustin Calmet, and Montague Summers.
Q: There are many stories, movies, and even television shows involving vampires. The Strain uses the idea that vampires are a plague, and that the lead hunter is a scientist from the Centers for Disease Control. What was your inspiration for this twist?
GDT: When I was a kid I loved The Night Stalker and I fell in love with the idea Matheson and Rice posited, of exploring a creature of such powerful stature through the point of view of a common worker, a man used to dealing with things in a procedural way. "Just another day at the job."
Q: How did you and Chuck Hogan come together to write The Strain? How does your collaboration work?
GDT: It was a true collaboration. I had created a "bible" for the book which contained most of the structural ideas and characters. Chuck then took his pass on it and invented new characters and ideas. Fet (one of my favorite characters) was completely invented by him. And then I did my pass, writing new chapters or heavily editing his pass, and then he did a pass on my pass and so on and so forth. This is the way I have co-written in the past. I loved Chuck's style and ideas from reading his books and I specifically wanted him as a partner because he had a strong sense of reality and had never written a horror book. I knew we would complete each other in the creation of this book. What surprised me is that he came up with some gruesome moments all on his own! He revealed himself to be a rather disturbed man!
Q: Chuck, Stephen King hailed your novel Prince of Thieves as one of the ten best novels of 2005. What was that like getting such extraordinary praise from this esteemed cultural icon?
Chuck Hogan: The mere fact that Stephen King had read something I'd written really blew my mind. And then to find out that he liked it -- that I'd gotten inside the head of the man who has been getting inside of all our heads for all these years -- was a unique thrill, and a real morale boost. I wrote him a rambling thank-you letter that probably got tossed in the "crazy fan" file -- but for him to use his position to champion the work of other authors tells you everything you need to know.
Q: What most surprised you about working with Guillermo del Toro? Has working with him impacted your own work? In your former career as a video store clerk, did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine working on a project like this -- with a legend like del Toro?
CH: I'd never coauthored anything, nor had I published a true work of horror before, and here I was embarking on an epic trilogy with a master of the genre. I probably should have been more intimidated -- yet I felt an immediate kinship with the material, as well as true excitement at the challenge of bringing the story to life, both of which carried me through. Guillermo is a daunting first audience, and yet an incredibly generous collaborator. Not to mention an amazing resource: it's just fun to have to ask him a question -- say, about why the vampires run hot instead of cold -- and know that, not only will he take me through their intricate biology, but he will embroider the account with corroborating examples from the field of entomology, marine life, and some arcane fact about the function of human blood platelets.
Q: Your previous novels, Prince of Thieves and The Killing Moon, probe the dark side of human nature. What draws you to this theme and to the genre of suspense?
CH: Crime and horror are both genres of existentialism, and I am drawn to stories of man at his extremes, of people who find themselves tested, haunted, or threatened. I believe a writer should challenge himself in his work just as he challenges the characters in his story -- anything less would be inauthentic and dishonest. What I love about The Strain is that the journey of the story takes this maxim and multiplies it by one thousand.
Q: The Strain is the first novel of a trilogy. Can you give us a hint of what's to come?
GDT: The second novel is rather crepuscular -- mankind loses its advantage and we see what the future holds for the vampiric race while tracking the mythical origins of it all. We revisit familiar memories and learn more about Setrakian, and Gus leads us to an unexpected alliance. New York is under martial law and finding a way out of it becomes a major subplot. The third novel is absolutely enormous both in its implications and its reach. It rephrases vampirism in a completely fresh way.
Q: Will we see The Strain on the big screen anytime soon?
GDT: No, not film -- far too compressed a form. I believe it would be ideal to create a limited cable series out of it and not to extend it into a network run, where characters die only when the ratings do.