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Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
The Fall
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2010

William Morrow / HarperCollins
USA Trade Hardcover, First Edition
ISBN 978-0-061-55822-1
Publication Date: 09-21-2010
238 pages, $26.99
Date Reviewed: 12-01-2010

Index:  Horror  General Fiction  Science Fiction  Fantasy

There's something special about the dreams we call nightmares. They seem to have no beginning, and no end. We are always in the middle of a nightmare, and that trapped, hopeless feeling of unceasing agony is what makes them so frightening. The placelessness of our souls becomes a torment beyond the surreal tortures we imagine. We are without home, and thus, without hope.

Tapping into this feeling of the authentic nightmare is not easy, especially within the confines of a modern vampire novel, but in 'The Fall' Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan use the middle book of their vampire trilogy to create a dizzying spiral into nightmare. The series began with 'The Strain' and will end (or perhaps not, given the title) with 'The Eternal Night.' As a middle book in a trilogy, 'The Fall' faces some challenges, which it manages to turn into advantages. Though the questions it raises outnumber the answers it offers, it's still a rich, rewarding reading experience that captures the essence of nightmare.

For readers who might be interested in the book from what you've read in this review so far — stop reading now. You need to have read 'The Strain' before you start 'The Fall.' That said, Del Toro and Hogan manage to be as eloquent as possible in the opening portions of the novel, bringing readers back to the end of the world as we know it. But once we're there, and it doesn't take long, 'The Fall' transforms into its own vampire novel, a story of love tortured and inverted, a story in which the underpinnings of family and society have come undone.

Having created a memorable cast of characters in 'The Strain,' Del Toro and Hogan bring them back and take them down a notch, even as they manage to make some significant inroads in their battle to keep humanity fully human. Ephraim and Zack Goodweather cope, but just barely, and what happens in the course of 'The Fall' does not make things easier. Zack's character arc is a grand mix of poignant and terrifying, while Ephraim seems to be getting the sort of education that results in suicide bombers. Setrakian reveals his heart and Vasily Fet lets himself learn the ways of the warrior. The authors don't overindulge or shortchange our protagonists, and the result is that we're immersed in a nightmare whose beginnings are now unimportant since the end seems unreachable.

There's a lot of gratification with regards to the vampires, as we see more and learn more about not what they mean to humanity, but to one another. The revelations here are enough to give the novel a real jolt, and the new critters are unique and disturbing. Del Toro really is a monster-hound, one who knows that a monster with a character is far more terrorizing than a mere eating machine. The authors also introduce some new characters on both sides of the divide who provide wonderful moments of power, awe, terror and sorrow. For all the apocalyptic action that ensues, and the great set pieces, 'The Fall' is smart enough to know that characters make the world go round — or stop it dead, if that's their wish. 'The Fall' takes all the raw materials and the power of genre and pulp fiction — monsters, cliff-hangers, set-pieces and setbacks, invests them with some real emotion, and casts the work in excellent prose. There's enough poetry to conjure the nightmare, shot through with the sort of brutal simplicity that makes action scenes come to life for the reader,

Bucking the usual trend for second novels to run long, 'The Fall' is actually shorter than the 'The Strain,' and every bit as intense. As with the best nightmares, the ones that scare you so much you want to tell everyone you know what you dreamed, 'The Fall' really does leave you hanging. There are resolutions, steps forward and backward by those on both sides of the conflict, but the final chapter is still to come. The endless feeling is well-played by the authors, to amp up the horror and the terror. We're clearly partway through a story that might well have an ending we'd prefer not to experience — not as humans, not as characters in the story. As a reading experience, however, 'The Fall' is a very effective exercise in vertigo. It lives up to its title, taking readers to the edge and then over. You do get to wake up from 'The Fall.' You'll certainly remember it. It is just like those nightmares that have no beginning, only terror, and an interruption that is not an ending, but a malevolent promise of more terror to come.

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