The Strain

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For other uses, see The Strain (disambiguation).
The Strain
2009 first edition hardback cover
Country United States
Language English
Genre Horror novel
Publisher William Morrow
Publication date
June 2, 2009
Media type Print, audio
Pages 401
ISBN 0061558230
Followed by The Fall

The Strain is a 2009 vampire horror novel by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. It is the first installment in The Strain Trilogy, and was followed by The Fall (2010) and The Night Eternal (2011).

Del Toro first envisioned the story line as a television series, but was unable to find a buyer for the series.[1] An agent then suggested turning the story into a series of books with writer Chuck Hogan.[1] A television adaptation is currently airing on FX.


A Boeing 767-300ER arrives at JFK and is taxiing its way across the tarmac when it suddenly stops. All window shades are closed except one, the lights are out, and communication channels have gone silent. An alert is sent to the CDC. Dr. Ephraim "Eph" Goodweather, head of the CDC Canary project, a rapid-response team that handles biological threats, is assigned and sent to investigate. Goodweather and Dr. Nora Martinez board the plane, finding everyone except four people dead. In a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem, former history professor and Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian knows something terrible has happened and that an unnatural war is brewing. So begins a battle of mammoth proportions as the vampiric virus that has infected the passengers begins spilling out onto New York City's streets. Dr. Goodweather, who is joined by Setrakian and a small band of fighters, desperately tries to stop the contagion to save the city, and also his wife and son.


Dr. Ephraim Goodweather[edit]

Head of the CDC's rapid-response team, the Canary Project, Eph is a newly divorced father attempting to balance the custody battle over his son Zack with his duties as an epidemiologist. He and his Canary team are first-responders to the Boeing 767 disaster, and are tasked with solving the mystery of the mass casualty. Unable to reconcile the symptoms of the newly infected airline passengers with standard disease pathology, Eph is convinced of the reality of vampires by Abraham Setrakian. Discredited at the CDC by the vampires' human conspirators, Dr. Goodweather finds himself a fugitive from both the human authorities and the undead. The need to protect his son drives Eph's every action.

Dr. Nora Martinez[edit]

A skilled epidemiologist, Nora is second in command of the Canary Project. She and Eph have been attempting an office romance with mixed success, complicated by their high-stress medical careers and Goodweather's lingering melancholy over his looming divorce. Nora quickly dedicates herself to uncovering the vampire conspiracy, and is determined not to be relegated to doing the "woman's work."

Professor Abraham Setrakian[edit]

As an Armenian Jew who escaped the Treblinka extermination camp during the Second World War, Setrakian became aware of, then unwittingly tied to the Master as a young artisan during his time at the camp. He then dedicated his life to hunting down the Vampiric scourge for more than six decades. Wielding an ancient silver sword with hands nearly crippled from his first encounter with the Master, Setrakian is an expert on vampire biology and destruction, and recruits Eph and Nora to his cause. His determination and will are strong, but his weak heart has become an obstacle to his lifelong quest.

The Master[edit]

As revealed in the trilogy's conclusion, the Master is one of the seven vampire propagators born from the blood of the fallen angel Ozryel. Known as the archangel of death, Ozryel became consumed by bloodlust after being sent to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness before he was punished with his body severed into seven pieces. Ozryel's throat, from which the Master was spawned, was placed somewhere in the Thousand Islands at Lake Ontario. Though he held a truce with the other "Ancient Ones", the Master intended to take over human civilization. By the time of his arrival in New York, having spent nearly a millennia in Europe in various host bodies, the Master inhabited the body of Jusef Sardu, a 19th-century Romanian nobleman afflicted with gigantism who was a "gentle giant" in life. Through the cooperation of Eldritch Palmer, promising the dying billionaire immortality, the Master has gained unlimited financial and political power to ensure the commencement of his "night eternal" by causing a nuclear winter that allows only a few hours of sunlight per day. By the events of The Night Eternal, the Master transferred himself into the body of Gabriel Bolivar, a rock star who was among his initial victims when he arrived in New York. The Master plots to condition Dr. Ephraim Goodweather's son Zack to be his next host. But once the location of Ozryel's throat is revealed, and after the Master's son Mr. Quinlan brings the ashes of the Ancient Ones there, the resistance group destroys the island. The Master's strain is eradicated as a reconstituted Ozryel is allowed to return to Heaven.

Among the Master's undead acolytes is Thomas Eichhorst, a former Nazi commandant of the Treblinka extermination camp that Setrakian was held at.

Vasiliy Fet[edit]

An exterminator of Ukrainian ancestry working for the New York City Bureau of Pest Control, Fet's occupation soon leads to his discovery of the truth about vampires while working in a derelict building. Reaching Eph through a professional connection at the CDC, the exterminator lends both his skills as a vermin hunter and his powerful physique to Setrakian and Goodweather's cause. Loyal and unwaveringly brave, he becomes a surrogate son to the old professor.

Augustin Elizalde[edit]

A Mexican gang member fresh out of prison, Gus is attacked by a newly turned vampire on the streets of Times Square and is subsequently arrested by the police after throwing the creature under a truck. Learning the truth about vampires from a temporarily incarcerated Setrakian, Gus escapes confinement and finds himself to be a natural vampire slayer on the streets of his tenement neighborhood. Recruited by the other Ancients as a "day hunter" against the Master's exponentially spreading hordes, Gus assembles a rag-tag band of fighters, including aged luchador Angel and silver-toothed gangster Alfonso Creem.

In the television adaption, Gus's motives are altered to having played an unknowing role in the Master's arrival in New York with the promise of his criminal record erased and his mother not be deported. But after witnessing his mother and brother turned into vampires, Gus became a vampire hunter.

Eldritch Palmer[edit]

One of the richest men in the world, Eldritch Palmer craves the one thing that all his money cannot buy: immortality. The elderly tycoon's fear of death leads him to make a pact with the Master, trading his vast fortune, political influence, and the fate of the human race in exchange for an undead place at the vampire king's side. (His name is an in-joke reference to the 1965 novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick)[citation needed].

Dr. Everett Barnes[edit]

As the Director of the Centers for Disease Control, Barnes is Eph and Nora's direct superior. Skilled in the politics and media aspects of the medical industry, he is a shrewd bureaucrat who carefully maintains a quaint, "country doctor" image. His insistence upon wearing a Navy style Public Health Service uniform, combined with his white goatee, make him resemble a combat-decorated Colonel Sanders (although, his dialogue makes him sound like a cross between Fred Dalton Thompson and C. Everett Koop).

Kelly Goodweather[edit]

Eph's estranged wife and current opponent in a drawn-out custody battle over their only son, Kelly is a public school teacher and fiercely protective mother, pulling no punches in her attempt to paint her husband as the less suitable parent. Eph constantly worries about the growing influence of her milquetoast live-in boyfriend, Matt, on their son Zack. But when the Master begins sending out his followers, Kelly ends up becoming infected and becoming a means for the Master to track down Goodweather and the resistance.

Mr. Quinlan[edit]

Known as "the Born", Mr. Quinlan is a rare human/vampire hybrid and the son of the Master who is the Ancients' chief hunter and bodyguard. He is efficient and loyal, recruiting Gus Elizalde to help him and his squad in their mission to kill his father. Mr Quinlan is disgusted by his father's actions, and is determined to stop him at all costs.



Within the Strain trilogy, the vampires, or "strigoi" as they are also referred as, are the spawn of the Ancient Ones who each manifest from leaking blood from a body part of the fallen archangel Ozryel. As each was a part of Ozryel before his dismemberment, the Ancient Ones share his bloodlust to the point of thirst. The biological emphasis on the Ancient Ones and their spawn mirror that of parasitic creatures.

The vector for vampirism is a capillary worm which, once introduced into the human host's bloodstream (either through a vampire's feeding or direct invasion by the worm through a wound or orifice), introduces an incurable and fast-acting virus. By manipulating the host's genes, depending the circumstances, the virus causes a human to undergo numerous radical physical changes.


The first and most distinct vampire adaptation is the development of a long, retractile proboscis beneath the host's tongue that reaches up to six feet from the mouth. This "stinger" serves not only the vampire's feeding by latching onto human prey's throat or thigh, draining the victim's blood for nutrition, but also infects the human with capillary worms. The vampire's jaw is set at a lower hinge than a human's, with the mouth gaping like a snake's when the stinger is deployed. Because the structure of the stinger is modified tissue from the human lungs and throat, vampires are incapable of physical speech once the stinger is deployed.

A vampire's physical appearance is governed mainly by the host body shedding those human traits that are obsolete to its new life cycle. Hair and fingernails are gradually lost, while the external nose and ears atrophy, leaving a fully matured vampire's skin as smooth and featureless as marble. The vampire's complexion is extremely pale between feedings, but appears a flushed red following a recent blood-meal. Eye coloration consists of a black pupil surrounded by a red sclera, with a white nictitating membrane sliding across for protection. The middle fingers of both hands grow and strengthen, and a thick talon develops in place of the lost fingernail. As vampire reproduction is achieved through viral infection of hosts and not through any sexual mechanism, the human genitalia also atrophy, leaving a mature vampire with no discernible sex.

The digestive and circulatory systems of a vampire are simplified and fused, the vampire's interior organs most resembling a series of connected sacs. Nutrition from a blood feeding is transported throughout this system via a thick, viscous white fluid that forms the vampire equivalent of blood. The capillary worms are present in this fluid, swimming throughout the circulatory system and often visible beneath the vampire's thin skin. Like rodents, a vampire is unable to vomit, with its suction-based digestive process functioning only one way. All bodily waste is excreted from a single rectal orifice in the form of a pungent ammonia-based spray; a vampire will excrete for the entire duration of a feeding, purging old food as it consumes new blood.

The vampire's body temperature runs extremely high, at 48.9 °C / 120 °F, and a human is able to feel their ambient heat from several feet away.

Many of the physical changes from human to vampire occur gradually following the initial worm infection and are accompanied by great pain. A newly "turned" human will lie in a state of suspended animation for an entire day, rising the next night as a nascent vampire. The stinger is present for the vampire's first foray to facilitate feeding, but other traits (hairlessness, talons on the mid-digit, lack of distinct internal organs) will develop within the first seven nights following infection. The vampire's mental state will also be confused at first, and its movements will be clumsy and awkward. As it matures, however, the vampire will become supremely agile, able to leap great distances and climb sheer surfaces with the aid of its talons. Full maturity, physically and mentally, occurs within the first thirty nights.

In spite of the vampire's morbid biology stripping legend of its romance, the most famously admired trait of the undead remains intact: immortality. Unless slain by violence or sunlight, a vampire's parasitic body structure will neither fade nor weaken with the passage of time, giving it an effectively endless "lifespan". Even in those cases where the host body is damaged beyond repair, a vampire of sufficient power can transfer its consciousness (via a torrential capillary worm transfer) from one human host to another.

If a vampire infects a pregnant woman, the developing fetus will grow into a creature similar to a vampire, but with several unique traits. So-called "born vampires" lack the parasitic worms necessary to infect humans, and have a limited resistance to UV exposure, being able to survive for short periods in direct sunlight. Most importantly, these half-breeds retain a human's individual intelligence, and are not mentally subservient to their Ancient progenitor. They are otherwise physically identical to a turned vampire, complete with stinger, finger talons, and the need for blood-meals.


The sensory apparatus of the vampire is highly adapted for its nocturnal life cycle. Sight becomes the vampire's least acute of senses; color vision gradually being replaced by thermal imaging over the course of a week as the infected host undergoes biological metamorphosis. Once fully turned, a vampire possesses the ability to read heat signatures as monochromatic halos. Hearing is greatly enhanced, in spite of the loss of external ears, with a fully turned vampire's acute sense of hearing able to detect the sound of blood pulsing through the bodies of potential prey. Additionally, a fully turned vampire can smell the carbon dioxide emitted by a human's breath, thereby locating prey with minimal reliance on other senses.

The vampires' greatest sensory asset, however, is the "hive mind", which all vampires share with the Ancient that propagated them. Each vampire, through some undefined telepathic link, is able to send and receive thought and sensory information to and from its Ancient progenitor. In this manner, the Ancient vampires direct the actions of their individual spawn through mental communication, regardless of distance. Perhaps akin to its radiation shielding properties, the element lead has the effect of blocking this mental connection.

Despite their biological inability to speak, vampires can communicate with humans through telepathy, transmitting thoughts directly into a person's internal monologue. Those vampires seeking to pose as human can train themselves to move their lips in a pantomime of speech, but the actual communication is still via thought-transference.

An Ancient vampire is also able to use this telepathic ability as a weapon; known as the "murmur," this mental shock-wave has the ability to completely overwhelm the minds of surrounding human beings, rendering them unconscious.

Vampires also experience an overwhelming compulsion to infect family members and those they cared about as humans (their "dear ones"). They possess a unique ability to locate such targets, this sense being likened to a pigeon's homing instinct.


Many of the traditional vampire "weaknesses" of common folklore remain effective, although their potency is explained in terms of specific effects on vampire biology.

Sunlight is the vampire's ultimate destroyer, specifically ultraviolet light in the UVC range. This is due to the germicidal properties of the wavelength, since it breaks down the virus-laden tissues of the vampire's body. A localized source of UVC light, such as a fluorescent lamp, can be used to repel a vampire, much as a burning torch can repel an animal. Complete exposure to either direct sunlight or a powerful UVC source will result in complete desiccation of the vampire's body, leaving behind nothing but ashes.

Silver, in the form of a metal weapon or even a fine chemical mist, can also wound or kill a vampire. Much like sunlight, this is because disinfecting properties of the element make it capable of damaging the vampire's viral biology. While conventional weapons (lead bullets, steel blades) can cause physical damage, they will not repel a vampire. Silver causes vampires both debilitating pain and a certain amount of fear; binding a vampire in silver will completely incapacitate it.

Severing the spinal column through any method is another effective way to destroy a vampire. While the vampire's simplified internal organ structure makes it difficult to harm it with attacks to the body, decapitation will result in the vampire's death.

Although there appears to be no biological imperative behind it, vampires cannot cross running water. This is alluded to as having something to do with the origin of the Ancients, but no further explanation is given. This aversion to water can be overcome, however, if the vampire is assisted (or "invited") by a human.

Traditional religious protections against vampires, such as a crucifix or holy water, display no practical effect. The prevalence of this lore is explained as having been the product of Bram Stoker's "fevered Irish imagination."

Garlic, another common folk defense, has no noticeable use in repelling vampires.

Silver-backed mirrors, while incapable of harming a vampire, will reveal whether or not a person is a vampire. While a vampire does indeed cast a reflection, it is blurred and distorted, akin to an image vibrating at an impossible speed. Modern chrome-backed mirrors, however, will not have this effect, and the vampire will appear normally in such a looking-glass.


The Times Literary Supplement carried a review by Peter Millar dated 23 May 2009. The review praises the novel's "arresting start" and frequently alludes to Guillermo del Toro's career as a film director by comparing the novel to a Hollywood movie. The implication may be that del Toro intends to direct the film version of the novel. The review closes by calling The Strain a "rattling piece of escapism" with a "predictable" blockbuster ending.[2] Xan Brooks of The Guardian calls the novel "a pulpy, apocalyptic fable" and a "fast-paced, high-concept outing that seems tailor-made for either a big-screen adaptation or - as Hogan has enthused - 'a long-form, cable-type TV series'. And yet at the same time this opening salvo also looks to the past; doffing its cap to an illustrious ancestor."[3] He calls the vampires "mindless, undead leeches."

Zack Handlen, writing for The A.V. Club, was less enthusiastic, concluding that

"the result is a predictable but generally engaging thriller. The chapters come in short bursts, mimicking the editing of a big-budget epic. It makes for a fast read, but the rapid-fire parade of characters means that few make an impact. The world-building works best when it's distracting from cliché, instead of trying to inspire honest emotion. Del Toro fans will recognize certain familiar tropes — the quest for immortality, the vampiric physiognomy, and the ever-popular things in jars — but those motifs are muted on the page."[4]

Similarly, Deirdre Crimmins described the novel as "an imperfect vampire book" marred by "some very awkwardly worded phrases and poorly described scenarios scattered throughout the book" and some "terribly clichéd" characters.[5] Jeff Jensen, reviewing The Strain for Entertainment Weekly, wished for more evidence of del Toro's participation, saying, "It's hard to believe he found time for such an ambitious project — and after reading the book, it seems clear he didn't. ... The Strain is a competently constructed piece of entertainment, and I'll give it bonus points for shaking up some vampire clichés. ... The novel could have used a little less Hogan and little more del Toro."[6]


Comic books[edit]

In 2011 production began on a comic book adaptation of the book trilogy with Dark Horse Comics.[7] Writer David Lapham and artist Mike Huddleston were announced as working on the project,[8] with the series as a whole spanning an estimated 24 issues.[9] The first issue of The Strain was released in November 2011 to mostly positive reviews.[10][11]


  • The Strain Volume 1 TPB - Collects issues #1-#6.
  • The Strain Volume 2 TPB - Collects issues #7-#11.
  • The Strain Volume 3: The Fall TPB - Collects issues #1-#4.
  • The Strain Volume 4: The Fall TPB - Collects issues #5-#9.
  • The Strain Book One HC - Collects issues #1-#11.
  • The Strain Book Two: The Fall HC - Collects issues #1-#9.
  • The Strain Volume 5: The Night Eternal TPB - Collects issues #1-#6.

Television series[edit]

In 2012 it was announced that FX had ordered a pilot episode of The Strain with the intention of creating a limited television series based on the books.[12] Before writing the book trilogy, del Toro had initially planned the books as a television series and stated that if picked up, the series would span three to five seasons.[1][13] He also commented that he and Hogan would co-write the script for the pilot episode and that as of November 2012 he had already begun casting.[14] Del Toro further commented that he planned to also direct the pilot episode, with a full season airing in 2014 if the show was picked up.[14] It was later announced that a second full season was ordered by FX to air in 2015.


  1. ^ a b c "‘The Strain’ Drama From Guillermo Del Toro And Carlton Cuse Gets Pilot Order At FX". Deadline. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  2. ^ Millar, Peter (23/05/09). "Thriller: The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan". Times Literary Supplement. United Kingdom: The Times. Retrieved 05/08/09.  Check date values in: |date=, |accessdate= (help)
  3. ^ Brooks, Xan (12 June 2009). "Fangs ain't what they used to be: Dracula gets a modern makeover in a filmic chiller". The Guardian. United Kingdom: The Guardian. Retrieved August 5, 2012. 
  4. ^ Handlen, Zack (June 18, 2009). "The Strain". The A.V. Club. The Onion, Inc. Retrieved August 5, 2012. 
  5. ^ Crimmins, Deirdre (2009). "The New, Improved Undead". Open Letters Monthly. Boston, MA: Open Letters LLC. Retrieved August 5, 2012. 
  6. ^ Jensen, Jeff (May 27, 2009). "The Strain (2009)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved August 5, 2012. 
  7. ^ "New Dark Horse Comics by Guillermo del Toro, Tom Morello, P.C. Cast Comic-Con". Comics Alliance. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  8. ^ "Comic-Con 2011: Guillermo del Toro, Tom Morello, P.C. Cast Doing Dark Horse Comics This Fall". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  9. ^ "Guillermo del Toro Takes on Comic Book Adaption of Vampire Sci-Fi Trilogy". Reelz. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  10. ^ "Review: ‘The Strain’ #1 – 4". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  11. ^ "Review: The Strain #1". Crave Online. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  12. ^ "FX’s ‘The Bridge’ Picked Up To Series". Deadline. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  13. ^ "'Hobbit' Director Guillermo Del Toro Talks Vampire Novel 'The Strain'". MTV. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  14. ^ a b "Guillermo del Toro Talks FX Series THE STRAIN; Says Casting Has Begun for the Pilot, Which They’ll Shoot Next Year". Collider. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 

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