NOTE: The Night Eternal is the 3rd and final book in The Strain horror trilogy. There is no way to review The Night Eternal without revealing the events in the first two books. Be warned this review will contain spoilers for all 3 books in order to properly analyze what I liked, and didn’t like, about this volume. If you have read The Strain and The Fall, The Night Eternal is good enough to be worth reading the series to conclusion. You may have the same problems with it that I had however in the end I thought the ending was satisfying. I had some issues with the road to the finale; you may too.
Beginning two years after The Fall’s unleashing of worldwide nuclear winter, The Night Eternal is the vampire plan brought to total fruition. Mankind has been turned and subjugated by the vampiric horde, and all is ruled by The Master, the ancient vampire that telepathically rules the vampire legion. Humans are either destroyed, being farmed for blood, willing accomplices in the new world order, or fighting as a resistance force against overwhelming odds. CDC virologist Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, fellow CDC virologist Dr. Nora Martinez, the exterminator Vasily Vet, and the gang banger Augustin “Gus” Elizalde, fight against the Master and the vampire menace by any means necessary. Aiding them is Mr. Quinlan, the Born, a first generation vampire as powerful as the Master and filled with vengeance toward his maker, and the Lumen Occido, an ancient book filled with the history of the vampire as well as the hidden key to finish the vampiric strain once and for all. Eph’s former wife Kelly, now a vampire lieutenant to the Master, searches for him ceaselessly while Eph searches for his son, Zach. Zach is living with the Master in a Central Park castle and is being unwittingly shaped to be the next vessel for the Master to transfer is essence to. Times are desperate but a plan starts to emerge that will force the heroes into one final gambit that may see the destruction of the Master and his vampire legion once and for all.
As far as finales go, The Night Eternal is a satisfying ending to 1000 page apocalyptic epic. The ending itself is very good, although pretty predictable. I write this as the gaming world is in knots over the ending of Mass Effect 3. One poor soul, who clearly has more money than good sense, has actually filed a lawsuit with the FTC to force Bioware, the makers of the game, to change the ending. Myself, I am a few hours in to the game so I have no idea what everyone is all tore up about. I’m assuming the game ends with near everyone dead, including the main character (Shepherd) , and some kind of grand sacrifice on Shepherd’s part. His name is Shepherd for cripes sake, this isn’t rocket science. So it goes with The Night Eternal. You know that in order to save mankind a sacrifice must be made. There must be temptation and there must be a near fatal moment of weakness that finally gives way to ultimate redemption. It’s the journey to get there that proves problematic.
Full spoilers going forward for The Night Eternal.
Where The Night Eternal tips it’s hand is by moving from a very scientific and physical explanation for the vampire in the previous books into theological and supernatural for the ending. The Occido Lumen, the focal point of book 2, is translated and the origin of the vampire is revealed. It is that origin that pushes the narrative beyond science and into the supernatural. We learn that the Master and all of the Ancients all come from a falled Archangel names Ozryel who so offended God that he was torn in to seven pieces and scattered across the Earth. From his corrupted blood the worm of the vampire were born and sought flesh to corrupt. Eph and the others learn that the only way to stop the Master is to destroy the site that it was born. In this case, an island off New York. Along the way, Eph is so overcome with guilt over losing his son that he actually considers trading his son for the rest of humanity. He plans to give away his friends, and their plan, to secure the safety of his son. Relying on the word of a creature that has no concept of humanity or honor. Some may consider this noble, I consider it incomprehensibly selfish on an incredible level.
This is where the book really falls apart. Del Toro and Hogan want us to empathize with Eph, but it is impossible. There is simply no way to make him sympathetic when it is revealed that Eph is conspiring to bring about the final destruction of humanity in order to save his son. This is made even worse with the chapters that reveal what a selfish prick Zack has become under the tutelage of the Master. I get what the writers are doing but I didn’t like it. It felt cheap and manipulative. Worse, it didn’t work on me.
The other characters, Nora, Gus, and Fet, are given their own tasks to perform as well. The problem is that when the main characters are in danger or even die, you just don’t feel it. This is an action-horror story and the deaths and sacrifices just don’t resonate. You know from the get go that Eph has to die. It is set up that he is the “chosen one” and chosen ones always die in these things. But his path from coward to redemption is just too easy. At one point he makes the astute observation that the Master is using him. Well, no shit. The Master uses every one and every thing. When Eph has his epiphany it is too little too late.
The Night Eternal is good, but not great. The first book, The Strain, was great. Scary, intriguing, and really well done. The Fall was good, but it was slight and had some narrative problems. The Night Eternal leaves me feeling a bit like the poor soul filing lawsuits against video games. I can respect what the authors did, and I’m not regretting the journey. But I really wish the ending it had been both bigger and smaller. At no point did I really feel like the fate of humanity was at stake. It just felt like another battle. I wanted to feel something other than thinking I need to make sure I grab my empty bag of popcorn as I exit the theater and wondering what we are going to have for dinner that night.