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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2010)

Seth Grahame-Smith
Grand Central Publishing; 1st edition (March 2, 2010)

I finally finished Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter today. It took me 7 months to do it and that might be review enough in itself. Just last week I told myself I needed to either make a final push and finish the darn thing or just put it aside. However, the last third did pick up considerably so I’m glad I decided to stick it out.

I had a similar problem with Grahame-Smith’s first novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, one of the early pioneers of this renaissance of mash-up fiction we seem to be in the thick of these days. You can read my review of that book here. So why is that I found both of these texts such difficult reads? In book cases, the concepts behind the books are delightful. The idea of tall, gangly Abe Lincoln swinging an ax and dispatching vampires is great fun. I mean, what other president could be a vampire hunter?! It makes perfect sense. But, I must say, once you get over the initial conceit, there doesn’t seem to be all that much left for the book to offer.

The story begins with the narrator’s own story of how he came to be pressed into service by none other than Lincoln’s vampire mentor himself, Henry Sturges. Sturges has been seeking a writer to entrust Lincoln’s journals to for some time and it falls to the narrator, also named Seth Grahame-Smith, to finally bring the truth to light. And what a truth it is. It seems that when he was a young boy, Lincoln watched his beloved mother waste away and die. After the shocking death, which everyone attributed to a swiftly moving disease, Lincoln’s father makes the drunken confession to Abe that he has encountered vampires before and that it was no disease that killed Sarah Lincoln. Rather, it was a vampire from whom Lincoln’s father had taken a loan that he could not repay. The vampire takes his payment in the form of Sarah’s life as revenge. From there on, Lincoln vows in his journal that he will kill all the vampires in America and thus begins his journey. Eventually, he is befriended by the vampire Henry Sturges, a “good” vampire who wins Abe’s trust, teaches him the proper way to slay a vampire and then begins to send him the names of vampires who are particularly deserving of justice and who have hidden themselves in human society. The novel, then, tells the tale of Lincoln’s growth as a man and vampire hunter, culminating with his foray into politics and the presidency.

Reading about the hows and whys and wherefores of Lincoln’s vampire hunting escapades is entertaining enough, Edgar Allan Poe has a cameo, but I couldn’t help but wonder, “must this section be so long?” As I said, once you get accustomed to the idea of Lincoln swinging his mighty ax, the whole thing loses something because the conceit is actually as shallow as it is fun. Moreover, and actually a bit disturbing to me, we also learn that the real reason that Lincoln abhorred slavery and fought so vehemently against it was not because he considered slavery a moral evil but because it provided too easy of a food source for vampires. That’s right—slavery is what makes America hospitable for vampires. Thus, things like the Emancipation Proclamation are reduced to mere agents of Lincoln’s personal vendetta. I had really hoped that Grahame-Smith might do more with the unholy alliance between slave owners and vampires. I mean, the metaphor practically speaks for itself—the South living off the blood of slaves. But, strangely, I felt like the concept was left rather undeveloped. Not doing much with the metaphor may, in fact, have been the right choice, as I can see how it could also become pretty clunky. Still, that left me rather unsatisfied.
The vampires are the guys in dark glasses on the right. Vampires like top hats too.

I liked the last third of the book, Lincoln’s presidency and the fight of the vampires going on behind the scenes of the Civil War with the very fate of the living in America held in the balance, the best. The northern vampires are evidently movers and shakers because they are pretty much the ones who choose Lincoln as their human champion and work to put him into office. That section reads more like a “now it can be told” story and the photographic “evident” of vampires in the crowd of one of Lincoln’s addresses or the discovery of vampire skulls in a field of dead Confederate soldiers are great. Indeed, Grahame-Smith thanks Stephanie Isaacson for her “Photoshop genius” and he’s right. You can see several of them on the page for the book on Amazon. That last third of the novel is set at a much faster pace and has an urgency that comes from the urgency of the war itself. The story essentially ends with Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, but not before revealing just a few more big secrets about America.
One of Lincoln’s vampire bodyguards.

 

The final verdict? If you like the whole mash-up fiction thing, then doubtless Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter will be quite fun. If not, well, then you’ll probably slog through it like me and then sort of wonder why you did. In either case, make sure you hunt down the trailer for the book on youtube because that pretty much gives you all the delicious fun of Abe hunting vampires in far less time.