Here is my review of Abraham Lincoln :: Vampire Hunter, written by Seth Grahame-Smith.
Since your mind was just blown completely by the book's title alone, I'll give you a moment to compose yourself. Alright now, you okay? Good, now watch this:
It's worth the two minutes. Wait for it... wait for it... wait for-- BOOM! And Honest Abe goes for the neck and the kill shot! Getting past the completely unrelated shocking news that books now have trailers --what WILL they think of next?-- let's jump to your most pressing question.
Jim, are you trying to tell me that according to this book, Abraham Lincoln was a bad-ass guy who hunted and killed VAMPIRES?!
Yes, exactly. Like, seriously. I KNOW, WOW!
Genre: Historical fiction, vampire horror, fictional biography, civil war.
Format: Hardback edition, borrowed from a friend. (Thanks Heather!)
First, some background. You may have missed this, but there have been a few books released in the last year or two that take old dusty classics that admittedly no self-respecting guy would admit to read and recreating them as a mash-up with something from the horror genre. For example:
The Jane Austen coming-of-age love story gets a retelling with a severe twist. I haven't read these others, but the point is clear. Get people who have never read a story like these (again, the target audience is probably dudes) to do so and enjoy themselves while they do it.
There have been a huge multitude of books written about Abraham Lincoln. Amazon.com lists over 14,000. And there have been hundreds of movies about him. He always tops the lists of popular and influential presidents. His face graces the penny and the five-dollar bill. More recently, some speculation among historians and biographers has arisen regarding his sexual preferences. I'm not sure about that, but no matter what you believe, there is some mystery to his life and personality.
This book takes the tact that the mystery surrounding the famous Abe was vampires. You can rest assured that these are not the fang-less, neutered, sparkly vampires that Stephenie Meyer wants you to believe in. These are evil, blood-thirsty monsters, for the most part. And from a very young age, Abraham Lincoln's life was affected by them.
The story begins as the author relates how he came to be in possession of a box of artifacts, including a series of handwritten journals which comprise multiple volumes of the secret journal entries of Abraham Lincoln. It moves forward weaving historical facts with snippets, anecdotes and interviews that tell how the man who would be our 16th president came to hunt the undead. First, as a young boy of nine, Abe would sit helplessly by his mother's bed as she died of what the doctors at the time called milk sickness. Later, he would learn that she was actually killed by a vampire's poison. He was also to learn from his father that his grandfather was brutally murdered by vampires. Against his father's wishes and warnings, he vows revenge and sets out to learn all he can and become a hunter of unnatural predators. That's right, it's a tale of vengeance.
* Shudder *
It's very interesting to envision this iconic figure going through this journey, and it appeals to me and mine in a special way. There's an inside joke in our household referencing "Red Kryptonite". You see, in the television series Smallville, the hero who will be Superman encounters multiple kinds of Kryptonite that affect him in different ways. The classic and most well known kind (to fans) is green, which injures Kal-el and takes away his powers. But during one story arc that spanned a season finale cliffhanger, Clark encounters the red Kryptonite. While under it's effects and in close proximity to the element Clark keeps his super powers, but loses his good nature and becomes the proverbial evil twin. He even gets over his fear of flying. More importantly, he steals a motorcycle, wears a black leather jacket and becomes a very bad boy. Check out his glowing red eyes.
As it turns out, my wife likes the bad boys (go figure). She looked forward to the multiple reruns and further episodes that included the "Red Kryptonite Clark". Later, we would make a mental connection between Clark's transformation and Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode III. Though she suffers to watch my favorite movies with me only on rare occasions, her favorite scene of Anakin is on Mustafar shortly after he's killed all of the Neimoidian Separatists. Again, check out the eyes.
Another parallel is that both characters experienced a parent dying; Anakin's mother and Clark's father. Their suffering and how they deal with it make for good story. Now, let's apply that same logic to the tale of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and you may be getting just a small idea of where this goes. The young Abe needs only manifest glowing-red eyes and the symbolism would be complete. The book divides his life into three distinct parts; Boy, Vampire Hunter, President. At age 11, Abe vows in his journal to kill every vampire in America. He picks up his trusty axe and with a year of secret practice and study, the first creature he kills is the same vampire who killed his mother.
But the story takes a few surprising turns. Abe's subsequent attempt to kill a vampire is less successful and he is rescued from death by a different vampire. He comes to an understanding with his rescuer, a vampire named Henry. As the first part of the book (Boy) ends and the second (Vampire Hunter) begins, he learns of the terrible secret connection between slavery and Southern vampires. The slave trade is also a trade in blood.
Abe was raised by an abolitionist family and already believed slavery was wrong. So he folds in a goal to fight and end slavery as well as killing all vampires. The rest of Part II follows his adolescence and early adulthood as he becomes more learned and influential politically. By day, he betters himself through study and books and begins a reluctant political career. By night, he hunts vampires.
I don't want to give the whole story away, but you can see a possible path from there to the White House. A lot of very interesting adventures happen along the way. What I think is most historically accurate about this work of fiction is how actual truths about Lincoln are weaved into this fictional retelling without any of the seams showing. For instance, I seem to recall that Lincoln was very reluctant to seek the presidency, though I can't find a citation for that. Another defining aspect of Lincoln was the birth of his sons and the death of two of them. He was, by many accounts, a doting father and the book includes many references to his time spent with the children. Since his early years had been spent around death, the following excerpt is succinct and rings very powerfully with me.
Abe took to parenthood with a passion. But two decades of burying loved ones had taken their toll. As the months went on and Robert grew, Abe seemed increasingly obsessed with losing his son, whether to sickness or some imagined accident. In his journal entries, he began to do something he hadn't done in years: he began to bargain with God.
My only wish is to see him become a man. To have his own family gathered beside him at my grave. Nothing else. I shall happily trade every ounce of my own happiness for his. My own accomplishments for his. Please, Lord, let no harm come to him. Let no misfortune befall him. If ever you require one to punish, I beg you-- let it be me.
Even if this quote is entirely fictional, I WANT it to be real. I want this important historical figure to be that emotional and to have that much depth. Because of his concerns and his worry over his family in general, Abe retires from battling vampires. But the coming calamity of the Civil War looms large on the horizon and whether he likes it or not, Abe continues to be thrust onto the national stage as the strongest, loudest voice against slavery. And he redirects his violent passion towards public speaking and politics, still with the goal of ending vampires.
Even his eventual death at the hands of John Wilkes Booth is recast with vampires as the back-story. Of course, Booth himself is a vampire here. But other than that, the assassin's motives and methods are exactly as has been suggested historically. Booth originally conspired to kidnap Lincoln in exchange for southern war prisoners, but altered his plans after hearing the president give an anti-slavery speech. His altered plans also included killing the vice-president and other high-ranking officials in the hopes that his would knock the Union back so heavily that the Confederacy could regroup and recover enough to win after all seemed lost. But his fellow conspirators either chickened out or failed miserably in their assignments and Booth didn't find escape back to his home in the South as easy as he had at first assumed.
Abraham Lincoln is by all rights a national hero. What I like most about this book is that it takes those accomplishments and elevates them even further with the addition of secret vampire killings throughout most of his early adulthood. The author does a superb job of keeping his importance as president and statesman intact while gilding his life with a secret agenda against the undead. It might seem like it would a tiresome 330+ page long joke, but it's beautiful and poignant and weaves an eye-catching twist element into the full story. There's even a very unexpected surprise ending, a la M. Night Shyamalan that will leave you wanting more. You'll have to pick up the book to learn more about that one.
He watched his old friend somersault through the air… wood metal wood metal wood metal. He knew. From the moment he let it go, he knew the blade would find its target. Knew the sound it would make when it broke through the skull of that false god, splitting its confident smile in two… tearing through its brain… denying it everlasting life. He knew because this was his purpose.
It had always been his purpose…
Still not convinced? Well, that's too bad. This is an awesome book about history, adventure, horror and redemption. I devoured every page of it in the space of four or five days. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter! Who would have dreamed this up?
Thanks again to Heather for thinking of me when she was done reading her copy AND for lending it to me.