BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The second stage of a vampire plague sweeps the globe and is revealed to be part of a grand plan by an ancient vampire.
PROS: Action-packed; fast-moving; sympathetic characters you root for.
CONS: Decline of civilization inconsistent; some parts predictable.
BOTTOM LINE: Despite a few oddities, this book was one I found myself wanting to get back to between readings.
In The Strain, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan delivered an excellent story documenting the beginning of a vampire plague sweeping through New York City. The Fall, the second book in the trilogy, takes place just a week later and shows that not only has the virus gone global, but that its release is but a small part of a grander plan conceived by an ancient vampire known as The Master. The Master is a renegade Ancient who has renounced his six clan brothers and their long-term plans in favor of immediate satisfaction through world dominance – a destiny that can be secured through possession of an ancient book that holds information necessary to stop all vampires.
Leading the good fight against The Master is Ephraim Goodweather, head of the Center for Disease Control. Eph’s main motivation is not to fight big, scary vampires, but rather to protect his son, Zack, from his mother (and Eph’s ex-wife) who has since become a vampire and is desperately trying to reclaim her son (her “Dear One”). Assisting Eph against the Undead are: Setrakian, a man who has been following the vampires since he first encountered them as a teenager in a Nazi concentration camp; Fet, an expert city exterminator who conveniently knows his way around Manhattan’s underground tunnels and is most definitely motivated to fight big, scary vampires; Nora, Eph’s coworker and new love interest; and a group of street gang member enlisted by The Master’s rivals to be their proxy vampire hunter by daylight. Eph discovers The Master’s plan is ultimately being facilitated by powerful mogul Eldritch Palmer who has immortality desires of his own. Eph also learns through Setrakian that the downfall of all vampires may revolve around the very same ancient book sought by The Master.
As should be evident, The Fall is a book with many facets. While the main thrust of the book revolves around Setrakian’s attempts to destroy The Master, there are several other plot elements that support the overall reading experience. Setting aside Eph’s family and personal dramas, which serve their purpose and thankfully aren’t overplayed to point of being schmaltzy, there’s some interesting world building happening. But even more than that, The Fall makes a point of showing the breakdown of society in the wake of the plague and the public’s slow realization that the cause is essentially vampirism. The city that never sleeps is simply incapacitated. City streets are mostly empty, most of the population having fled. Businesses are closed and services are beginning to break down. The military is called in to maintain order, though there’s little they can do. There’s a definite sense of Apocalypse.
Yet that same depiction works against it in one key plot element: the ancient book. Oddly, despite the careful depiction of societal breakdown, Sotheby’s still manages to schedule a well-organized public auction that includes the ancient tome sought by Setrakian (to stop the vampires) and The Master (to secure his world domination by destroying the only means of stopping him). It seems an unlikely occurrence given the city is essentially shut down, not to mention that bloodsucking vampires are wandering the city at night. Events like were bizarrely inconsistent with the otherwise careful world building.
Another thing that took the reader out of the story was simple math as applied to Setrakian’s age. It’s been sixty-four years since Setrakian first encountered vampires as a teenage prisoner. The youngest he could be now is seventy-seven. I know some pretty spry old men, but in no way can I imagine them sword-fighting fast-moving undead creatures with six-foot stingers. I’m reminded of a tired Harrison Ford in the fourth Indiana Jones film or Christopher Lee barely wielding a light saber in Attack of the Clones. I just ain’t buying it.
But what I am buying is that The Fall has characters you like and root for (including an aging ex-wrestler/actor named Angel), a fast-moving, action-heavy plot, and a story that this reader was anxious to continue reading.