I have to admit, I wasn’t all that intent on reading this one. I’ve been a bit stalled on vampire fiction lately and, being British, I’m not all that ‘up’ on my American presidents. However, during a stay at my boyfriend’s with nothing else to read, he passed Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter my way. Not his usual type of book either, to be fair, but he claimed to have been pleasantly surprised. By the time I’d finished reading it, I was too.
No one ever knew about Lincoln’s valiant struggle against the undead… until author Seth Grahame-Smith laid eyes on Abe’s secret journal–the first living person to do so in over 140 years. Putting a supernatural spin on revisionist history, Seth has reconstructed Lincoln’s true life story–while revealing the role vampires played in the birth, growth and near-death of our nation.
For the record, Lewis picked this up before the movie (he’d kill me if I didn’t mention that). I didn’t, but I read it based on his rare recommendation of a slightly trashy book. Surprisingly though, it’s not all that trashy. Instead, it’s a well-written yet accessible biography of Abraham Lincoln. But, you know, with vampires.
Like I said in the introduction, all I knew about this particular president (which is still more than I knew about any other) was from my Comparative Law module at University, where we briefly studied the abolition of slavery. As for Lincoln’s life, other beliefs, family… Nothing. But hey, that’s where Seth Grahame-Smith comes in. Absolutely no prior knowledge is needed to read this. In fact, I can’t decide if it would be better to know a little about him to understand the references and be able to better separate fact from fiction (obviously I understand the vampires were highly probably fictional, but the story states he met Edgar Allen Poe, which he never did), or better to know nothing and learn as you go, like I did.
Ahhh, the vampires. Although they do form a large part of the story, they don’t take over it. The main point is still, quite obviously, Lincoln’s life. It’s quite clever in some ways though – certain decisions are jigged around a little to involve vampires. For example, Abe’s fervent wish to end slavery was apparently fuelled by a connect desire to banish vampires from US soil. The methods, speeches and events are mostly the same, just the reasoning is altered. I also loved the occasional altered photograph, like this one on the right. I’m not sure if you can read the text, but it says ‘Fig. 12 – Abe stands among his vampire victims in a painting titled ‘The Young Hunter’ by Diego Swanson (Oil on Canvas, 1913).’
The beginning is excellent – a struggling writer is approached with the lost diaries of Abraham Lincoln, and is requested to write them up into a publishable form. As the story begins, we’re introduced to Abe’s early life including his mother’s murder, which leads to his quest for vengeance. It’s brilliant – very fast-paced and informative. Unfortunately, the middle part of the book lags a little. It’s just kind of repetitive. He kind of meanders around aimlessly, and we’re told he’s apparently fighting vampires at the same time. There’s very little about his motivation behind getting involved in politics – it’s just kind of rushed over. Thankfully, it does get back on track after he’s achieved the Oval Office. It would have been better if the ending had returned to the original author character in the beginning, I think – just to round it off a little, instead of the rushed ending we’re left with.
If you’ve seen the recent Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter movie trailer you’ll know what an intense, action-heavy film it looks to be. The book isn’t quite like that, although obviously you can’t have a book about hunting vampires without a little action. Instead, it’s more about Abe’s decision making and struggles with responsibility. The action that does take place is very well-choreographed however and filled with the sense of urgency that only a life-or-death struggle can provide.
Honestly, I’d have been more than happy with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter even if it didn’t bother with the vampires. It’s still an accessible yet complete biography of the 16th President of the United States. I actually really like him. As a person, I mean, not necessarily the character he is in Seth Grahame-Smith’s book. I agree with most of his principles and I respect him for standing up for what he believed in. I’ve added a few less occult biographies to my wishlist, and it’s a rare vampire book that makes you long for respected books on American Presidents.