Dark, Dystopian, Fiction, Nope, Problematic, Well known books

[Thriller] The Strain Series, AKA The Popular Series With ONE Woman & Next To NO PoC It Started Off Great... But Then There Were All Those Problems

This series is… ahem. Mostly interesting in the way The Strain series degrades as you go. Book one is promising! Book two is just plain boring and a little far fetched, plus you start getting mysoginy fatigue and realizing you have not seen a single non-white person yet. Book three? Pure bull. Pure, unadulterated, illogical nonsense. It was almost entertaining solely because of that!

Despite its HUGE drawbacks, The Strain Series was a different, quite original and promising take on vampires (it treats vampires as biohazard, with almost no paranormal aspect. Think of zombies plus vampires, plus just general scifi, sort of.) But the authors just failed to take it away after the first book, and I just simply can’t forgive the white misogyny. I would call for a redo of the second two books! But, since that’s never going to happen, I can’t really recommend this book series. If you treat it as generic entertainment in the half-horror genre, knowing ahead of time it will be problematic, then you might be able to enjoy it… But if you’re a casual reader, or if you are expecting something original, logical and interesting here, maybe don’t. Or maybe just read the first book and don’t waste your time anymore. Although who does that, right? You’ll want to know what happens to the characters (the only reason why I stayed!) But I can save you the time: NOTHING MUCH. Alright, let’s see what I can tell you about the books in more detail!

Book One: The Strain
The Strain (The Strain Trilogy #1)

Book one was the only book truly worth the attention. Like I said, it started out quite original, like any catastrophy or epidemic story, and I have to say, it was very cinematic! No wonder, it’s co-written by Guillermo del Toro. The book reads pretty much like a show – in scenes. Most things are indeed tell, and not show, which put you in the middle of the action. The tension is very strong, and it’s built up so well with all the infuriating interludes that are not in the same timeline, that you’re simply on the edge, like in a psychological thriller movie.

It’s also a very interesting take on vampires. The Strigoi are something between vampires, zombies and those infected by parasites. The resulting story is quite believable – one balancing right on the verge of scientific and paranormal, so it’s a read that could appeal to both scifi and paranormal fans. The story works well in bringing those two together – Eph as the voice of science, and Setrakian as the voice of tradition, or learning by experience and history.

However… At times, I felt like there were too many scenes that are just killings for the sake of killing. They served no purpose and got very old, very fast – at least for me. It might be that the thriller reader and watcher expects this from a book and it might work for them, but I felt like they were unnecessary scenes that brought nothing extra to the story.

[ Goodreads | Actually, don’t buy at Book Depository ]

Book Two: The Fall

The Fall (The Strain Trilogy #2)

Part two starts going downhill. It gives way too much power to the baddies too quickly to keep your interest in the series. You’re reading about the resistance, when you already know they’re definitely not going to win. Where’s the fun in that?

Book two uses the underground passages of the speakeasies which I thought was cool, and it also uses cultural and historical element like the hobo symbols underground and whatnot. It grows Setrakian’s character somewhat, with the backstory, and that was well done too. I also liked how they used the biohazard symbol and all the lore behind that to make it work. But… that’s about it. With these little details making it fun, there’s really nothing else driving it.

Now you know what I would have liked to see? Humans working with the traditionalist vampires to fight off the outcast vampire group. That would have been cool. But instead, the traditionalists get wiped out after like several tens of pages and all the resistence with all the cool vampire warriors just gets cancelled. Colossal waste of potential, in my opinion.  But there’s something WAY more serious that’s the problem with this series at this point.

It’s the surprising lack of any real female characters??? The Fall suffers from an incredibly, incredibly strong case of Strictly Male Writing. There are no women whatsoever who get more than a few lines. More than that, there are barely just a few secondary character women. They all either serve a purpose of being there to be turned, to be a mother, or to be the vehicle for The Male Conversation for the audience. There’s seriously NOTHING more than that. It’s been a long, long while since I’ve read a book like that, and I believe it was hard scifi written in the 60s, which this is not, so you should be able to see what a sorry example of the phenomenon this is.

And if you’re going to say the researcher, Eff’s partner, Nora? You know, I should have counted the sentences she uttered in the books. Wouldn’t have made more than a hundred. Not that she does much of anything, aside from being talked to, following, listening, being kissed or f*cked every now and then, and finally, crying when she is told to leave with the kid, like a good woman does. (She does get her own segment in book 3, but for me, it was much too late and much too little. Pathetic.) This was BY FAR the worst part of the entire otherwise good series – something that could have been easily edited. This is ridiculous. It’s hard to even imagine two guys who live in a world where you can write a book with literally no functional women characters in the 21st century. What world do you live in, people??

Then… There’s another thing. I just noticed this around the middle of book three, actually, but… It’s not just the women. ALL at least somewhat diverse characters are plainly erased in this series. It took me a while to notice cause I actually do live in a historically all-white country (post-soviet), but hello – Mr del Toro and Mr Hogan, did you not write this book about the US? Do you own any sort of magical racist glasses that blot out any person of color..?? I am absolutely shocked to realize that three books in, I could not detect even a passer-by that is black. About the only non-white person was a Latino. ONE person. We’ve got ONE woman. And ONE Latino. In three books. WE’RE DOING GREAT HERE, GUYS. (I’m always first to blame myself for ‘not noticing’, but in this case – if I’ve got to THINK to remember if there were any..? Probably means there are problems here. Still, feel free to tell me I missed something here. I was super fast-reading books 2 and 3 cause they were boring the hell out of me.)

Again. I cannot believe the kind of world these authors live in. You’ve got to be kidding me.

[ Goodreads | Like I said, do not buy at Book Depository, or anywhere, for that matter]

Book Three: The Night Eternal

The Night Eternal (The Strain Trilogy #3)The third book is… absolute bull. The only reason I kept reading is because I kind of wanted to know how it ends, but more importantly – so I can record the bull and put it in my review!

So get this. You know how Chernobyl crashed like 40 years ago, and you STILL need permits to go there, and there are STILL areas that are totally off limits cause they’re very dangerous? Well, apparently, this is not the way nuclear waste works in the universe of The Strain. There are going to be spoilers now, but I strongly advise you to click them and read them, cause I also advise you to NOT pick up this series. So, basically. In the end of the second book a lot of nuclear plants were blown up, and if I’m not mistaken, there were missiles launched as well. The result? Two months of radioactive rain and whatnot. Oh, and minor detail – because they certainly consider it MINOR in this book – the sky is now covered with waste clouds all the time, so that only two hours a day you get some faint light. But… DESPITE ALL THAT:

  • humans carry on with their lives as usual, only under the bad guys’ regime
  • nobody dies explicitly from the radiation..?
  • it’s not even contaminated anymore! In two months’ time!!
  • I think the authors forgot plants need sunlight to grow? Humans keep living in cities. What exactly do they eat? What even grows anymore, in this atomic winter?
  • No schools, not learning, and all the intellectuals are killed, and that is explicitly mentioned. But trains run, TV works, even electricity is running. Who does the repairs? Who’s smart enough to replace what’s broken? Who is maintaining those?

All of these incongruencies were wayyyyy too much for me to deal with. Even a middle grader knows this stuff won’t work. When every possible nuke blew up in book two, I was wondering what book three was even going to be about, cause considering the damage, nobody should be alive in book three, apart from the bad guys, and they don’t have anything to eat without humans, so they wouldn’t be alive either. But nope. The authors found a way to somehow drive this plot off the cliff and still have book three.

[ Goodreads | I mean, your own fault if you buy at Book Depository, I told you not to ]

So you might have noticed I didn’t go crazy about this series so much. It was promising, but seriously, even if I could accept the plot, waiting a whole first book and like 200 pages of the second one for the only female character in the book to DO SOMETHING is just not good enough. Have you read this series? What did you think about it?

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3 years ago

Wow this sounds very problematic indeed and not what I would have expected! It was on my list but just fell off. I have had positive experience with del Toro in terms of film, but my only encounter in book has been The Shape of Water. Which, fortunately, did not suffer the same fate but was not without shortcomings.

Brian Joseph
3 years ago

Too bad that this was so disappointing as per your commentary, it started off promising. The lack of diversity is puzzling, especially since Guillermo del Toro Gómez is from Mexico.

Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum
3 years ago

Okay, I’m glad I stopped after the first book. The rest of the series does not sound worth reading at all 🙁

3 years ago

I haven’t heard of this series, but it sounds like it has a lot of shortcomings.
Thanks for the honest article!

3 years ago

Sounds like a good concept but poorly executed. I’m usually wary of Fantasy and Sci-fi books written by men because of their problematic depictions (if any) of women

Big sis
Big sis
3 years ago

At least the girls name was Nora 🙂 I’m sure it reminded you of me for a moment 😉

Stephanie Jane
3 years ago

I absolutely love this review!! Your exasperation is positively leaping from every line and I can understand every one of your points. I probably wouldn’t have read this series although I had spotted the Toro name and thought it a maybe. I now definitely know to pass!

Laura Thomas
3 years ago

Something told me I probably wouldn’t enjoy this series. Thanks for sharing your review.

JJ @ This Dark Material

Yes, preach! I also picked up the entire series in one go (my fault, I know) based on GDT’s reputation. Aside from the neat twist on vampire mythology I thought all three books were pretty much a waste of time 😐 And I know that they haven’t quite reached 4-stars on Goodreads but I can’t help but wonder: how did they even get up to 3?? These are definitely a hard pass and better left on the shelf! Love your review breaking down all the issues, though 🙂

Jennifer | Book Den
3 years ago

I should have read the first one back when it was first recommended to me. The lukewarm reception to the rest of the series always kept me from starting. Now I probably never will. 🙁

3 years ago

You’d think with Del Toro co-writing this, there would be more POC…if not the women, at least that! Sheesh. Sorry to hear the series just went downhill for you more and more after the first book. Never fun!


Lilyn G
3 years ago

I don’t think I ever noticed the absence of non-whites in The Strain. However, to be fair, it’s been a while since I read them with any sort of critical POV too.

3 years ago

Oh dear, this does not sound like a series I would enjoy. In this day and age when we are embracing diversity, it seems way behind the times. I wouldn’t be able to get past the implausibility of book three either. Thanks for your honest and interesting review.

Daniela Ark
3 years ago

OH NOOOOOOO I LOVE LOVE LOVE Guillermo del Toro! I can’t believe he did this! [she sobs]

Jackie B
3 years ago

*standing ovation* It’s not often I read a remarkable and wonderful rant post. But this? This is brilliant. I need to hear no more once you explained how women are treated in these books. It’s like when all the men of the world don’t understand why Artemis by Andy Weir is getting a bad rap. O_o (Review to come on that book. It’s not *quite* as ranty because… well, I won’t spoil it) Why and how did you end up reading the whole series? I would have DNF’d book two and not bothered with book three. This seems unlike you.… Read more »

Dani @ Perspective of a Writer
Dani @ Perspective of a Writer
3 years ago

I was thinking of starting the series. Thanks for the heads up. I’m surprised about Del Toro. His movies rarely disappoint and he brings in an unusual POV or aspect.

3 years ago

i love love love the show so much because of how it approaches the portrayal of vampires, the whole thing is weird and i love it but it too struggles so much w female charactesr and given them anything meanwhile to do…

id probably try the books ne day even tho they get bad bc i am that kinda vampire trash

Chloe @ Book Dragons
Chloe @ Book Dragons
3 years ago

Problematic much. As a lover of paranormal books and all books which feature vampires, werewolves etc I can confirm so far there’s been a grand total of one book I found boring within the genre, two series where the main characters where waaaaay to whiny, self centered and needed a reality check. Usually paranormal is a guaranteed 3/3.5 star from me because I’m a sucker (haha no pun intended) for vampires and that sort of thing. But this series…I’m not sure if I could have made it through the first book to be quite honest. I need badass female characters,… Read more »

3 years ago

I might have picked up this series because of del Toro, but it sounds so disappointing that I cannot believe you managed to read the entire series.


[…] have in fact given the whole series a scathing review here, and Amazon hates my review so much they won’t just ban it or tell me it’s unacceptable […]

Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

Well…. this sounds awful. I admit, I watched some of the TV show and it was interesting but I think I got fatigued towards the end and stopped watching. I don’t remember some of the plot points which seem to happen in the books, though. The books just sound like they descended into hot mess territory and it’s making me question why I stopped watching the show and was it for one of your reasons for the terribleness of the books. I did like the unique take on vampires, though, they were really interesting.

Cee Arr
3 years ago

These books are based on the TV series The Strain (they’re a tie-in) and… that has female and PoC characters. From the beginning. I don’t know why they would erase that when it came to the books…? Especially since Guillermo Del Toro is Mexican! Strange.

Cee Arr
3 years ago

That’s possible/probable. I think I was tired writing that comment… I don’t always make sense when I’m tired! (Heads up: I’m tired now too!)

Including the same minority as the author is legit., but I agree that it could’ve been better. 🙂


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