Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter takes gigantic liberties. But if you can allow your imagination to accept the incontrovertible fact that our 16th President also killed vampires on the side, you'll be entertained right up until John Wilkes Booth's fanged appearance.
After Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies lit/genre mash-up book came and went like the novelty we all believed it was, I was less than hopeful that the author's next book would be entertaining. I was wrong. Grahame-Smith's second book is a breezy read, filled with fun references, but it goes so over the top, you don't have time to be offended by the history bending. The story moves forward at a fast pace, with engaging dialog and fascinating tidbits about the past president's life, both true and false.
The book opens with the author describing his monotonous existence in Rhinebeck, NY — until one day, a man who always seemed to be a stranger bestows upon him the missing journals of Abraham Lincoln, revealing him to be none other than the world's most successful vampire hunter. Why does our first-person author believe this mystery man from upstate New York? Because he's a vampire. And just like that, you're re-learning everything you ever knew about oneo f the greatest Presidents of the United States.
Grahame-Smith takes real life events, and weaves them with first person accounts of vampire attacks and fanged demons from the fake journals, and the result is surprisingly entertaining. And this is coming from someone who visited Lincoln's home in New Salem bi-yearly with her family, and treats the Ken Burns Civil War Documentary like the Holy Grail. Once you let go of the idea that this isn't trying to make fun of past history, nor undermine the actual work Lincoln did, it's sort of like one of the Back To The Future alternate timelines. What if Abraham Lincoln fought vampires? Turns out he'd still have the same family issues, work ethic and life goals, but for different reasons.
For instance, the main reason Abraham becomes such a devout vampire-killer is due to the death of his mother, which Abraham quickly discovers was at the hands of vampires, thanks to his no-good father's money issues. Sure, the doctors said she died from "milk sickness," which is actually what his mother was historically diagnosed with, but in the novel it's actually vampires. If you can get around that first hurdle, you're golden through the rest of the novel. If you can't, then you're going to have a hell of a time when the band of Union Vampires takes on the Rebel Vampires, or when Lincoln's first son dies not from sickness, but from vampiric tampering. And that's not even the most extreme version of the historical liberties this book takes.
Every rumor and myth about Honest Abe gets twisted to embellish the horror premise. What about Abe's beard? Legends say he grew it because Grace Bedell wrote that women loved whiskers. But in this alternate timeline, the beard was groomed to hide the scar from Lincoln's vampire-fighting life. Luckily, the book does make an attempt to educate the reader slightly, with footnotes relating side facts and other interesting historical moments — some of them accurate, or at least rumored to be.
The book itself broken down into three segments, Boy, Vampire Hunter, and President. With photos and etchings illustrating the many "facts" the journals present — my favorite being the capture of a member of Lincoln's trilogy. The "President" section being the darkest of the three, plagued with Civil War, Vampire War, multiple assassination attempts and of course, his and his family's demise. But the darkness is a good thing, since it helps the narrative deal with the tragic times that the United States faced. I mean, if you're going to introduce blood-sucking vampires into a time when we lost 2% of the entire population to war, you'd better be ready to make it darker. And for some strange reason, it all works. It's an engaging and entertaining read that slips both in and out of historical works and genre fun easily.
It's rather laughable because when you think about it, Abe did have all the makings of a great vampire slayer — more so than the rest of the past American Presidents. A commanding presence, a weathered "I've seen too much" face, the long duster-like coat (in which he kept his slaying ax hidden), a broken family forever plagued by monsters, a moral code set higher than the current medium, and of course the ability to kick plenty of ass (I'm assuming his 6 ft. 4 in. helped in this particular area). Heck he even had a Giles-type trainer, who is possibly still running around the globe today. He's basically Buffy with a beard.
All and all it's an engaging and entertaining read. Seth Grahame-Smith knows how to adapt his writing specifically to a time, place and tone. Plus, even though we all know what's going to happen next, the monster twists keep us guessing. It's a burn-through, beach book type of read, and about as much fun as an episode of Supernatural. Not about to change anyone's life, but still worth the short time it takes to read it.