The Night Eternal
Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Hard Cover, 384 pages, $26.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
Supernatural sagas are seductive for horror writers and readers. There is an attraction in bonding through a series of books; an amplification of ideas, an embracing of connecting over a span of time: A bite in the neck that binds. In The Night Eternal, Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan solidify the ties established in The Strain. Yet, it isn’t a necessary prerequisite to have read The Strain or its sequel, The Fall, to become engrossed in the final chapter of the trilogy. The epic elements of the narrative are grand and grandiose, but what deeply resonates is the focus on relationships; elaborate, yet basic, which break the heart and restore the spirit.
The novel takes place two years after the second book, an ecological period perfect for vampires: “The natural order of night and day had been shattered, presumably forever. The sun was obliterated by a murky veil of ash floating in the sky. The new atmosphere was comprised of the detritus of nuclear explosions and volcanic eruptions distributed around the globe, a ball of blue-green candy wrapped inside a crust of poisonous chocolate. It cured into a thick, insulatory cowl, sealing in darkness and cold and sealing out the sun.”
The grimness of the environment reflects a ruthless regime; vampires have imposed authoritarian rule; an allegorical approximation of Nazism. For resistance operatives the situation is very grave, indeed. On the positive side, the tenacious group of rebels possesses adaptation abilities which are clever and pragmatic. They are plagued, however, by personal turmoil. The most complex individual in the cadre is Eph Goodweather; an esteemed epidemiologist who falls short in conveying affection. Always a step behind in comprehending his feelings, Goodweather is obsessed with what he has lost in his life: His wife has joined the blood-consuming ranks of the vicious ruling class, and their adolescent son is being groomed to be a transfer vessel for the head vampire known as Master. Master can jump his persona from body to body, and a young malleable (in the Stockholm Syndrome sense) acolyte is very desirable. The desire is also tinged with an inference of spiteful revenge.
Eph, as previously stated, tends to deliver a little too late. He has an anxiety-laden sexual relationship with Nora, a former co-worker and now fellow freedom fighter. When she finds solace with a more reliable associate warrior, tension ensues. It’s another loss for Goodweather, so brilliant and intense, and achingly emotionally out of step. Wallowing in depression, he pops meds to cope: “His malaise was so overwhelming that no other flavor, no matter how sour, could change his emotional palate.”
The aforementioned Nora also struggles with inner turmoil. In addition to the uneasiness concerning Eph, she has the liability of an Alzheimer’s stricken mother. This is a heavy burden in the best of times, but trying to carry on covert activities in the company of someone with dementia is hazardous. Captured and taken to one of the camps, the two women face their respective fates: The elderly infirm woman, of no use to the sanguinary society, will likely be terminated. Nora has several bleak options, including becoming the mistress of the man who was her boss before the vampires took over. Dr. Everett Barnes is an odious and obsequious overseer of the camps; a vile venal villain with a taste for sadism. Nora’s vehement dismissal of his indecent proposal is wonderful in its invective; while Barnes is mentally undressing her, she gives him a royal dressing down. Therefore, when the omniscient narrator reiterates the vitriolic sentiments a few pages later, there is an impression of wild overstatement. This is a minor structural quibble, perhaps the result of two writers collaborating.
Interaction of parents and children is a compelling component of the narrative: Eph and son, and Nora and her mom; even the Master has family issues. Gus, a highly memorable character, keeps his turned mother caged; a thorn in his side, and an ache in his psyche. Wearing headgear to keep her plasma-draining stinger at bay, the monstrous madre is an extremely chilling creature.
In looking at the monsters, those who acquiesce to the vampire takeover and those physically transformed by it, Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan reassert mankind’s tremendous reserve: A reign of terror is vulnerable when compassion and determination exist. As Eph Goodweather wisely notes, the Achilles’ heel of the enemy is a deficiency in discerning passions that ignite: “In fact, it was this lack of comprehension – this utter inability to feel sympathy – that caused the Master to underestimate them time and time again. A desperate human is a dangerous human, and this was the one truth the Master could not divine.”
The Night Eternal is a fine finale to an epic horror series. Featuring a lengthy backstory involving archangels, and expertly choreographed action sequences, its scope is rich and vast. The grandeur of the tome is executed with precision, but it is the personages inhabiting the saga who take center stage. The marvelous characters provide the fervor that fuels the novel.