Book Review: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

Abe Lincoln Vamp Hunter CoverImagine you are an aspiring writer, stuck working at a five-and-dime store in a small town for an eternity more than you had planned.  The novel you furiously began scribbling late into the night after working long shifts at the store is collecting dust, still unfinished almost ten years later.  Resigned to failure, you complacently clock in for your shift each morning at 8:30, full of regret but too exhausted to make a change.  And then one day, a customer delivers to you a tidy brown package containing ten worn books of various sizes, along with a set of instructions: write a manuscript based on the contents of the books, guard them with your life, and discuss them with no one.  Equally bewildered and intrigued, you bend back the cover of the smallest, most unassuming of the collection and read the following: “This is the Journal of Abraham Lincoln.”

At this point I turned to my boyfriend and asked, “So this book is actually based on Abraham Lincoln’s real journals?”  “Yes of course.”  Well how come they didn’t teach of this version of history in high school?  The version where the only terrorists our president waged war on had fangs, where vampires were the villains behind slavery and the Civil War, years before natural selection turned them into sparkling sissies à la Edward Cullen.  This is a version of history I might have actually stayed awake for.  *Grumble grumble* lying cheating educators…

The author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth  Grahame-Smith, is back in action again with Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.  This book offered Grahame-Smith considerably more artistic freedom than Zombies because his vision was not strictly tethered to a literary classic.  This meant that instead of modifying an existing novel, the author was at liberty to create a story from scratch.  Sure, the story had to at least modestly reflect Abraham Lincoln’s life, but at least that offers considerably more room for interpretation than an already written novel.  The final product, an interesting and comical portrayal of the president, largely paid-off.  The book was an enjoyable and entertaining summer read.  Even better, in between the vampire conspiracies, I felt like I actually learned a little something about Lincoln’s character and life.

Though I enjoyed the book for what it was, I can’t say that it particularly impressed me.  The writing was often rather dry and at times slow moving.  The battle scenes didn’t leave me gripping the edge of my seat or holding my breath – they just sort of happened without much buildup or suspense.  Yet, I felt that the story was well conceived for the most part, and it is actually quite surprising just how well honest Abe’s life lends itself to vampire augmentations.  I wonder if the author chose Lincoln for that very reason, or if vampires could seamlessly be folded in to any historical figure’s life given the right finesse?  While some readers are outraged that Grahame-Smith portrayed vampires to be central to slavery (thereby redirecting much of the blame from humans to vampires and giving us White Americans an “out”), I think it downright foolish to suspect Grahame-Smith was honestly making any sort of political statement.  Although the topic of slavery is a sensitive one, one has to admit that it would have been the perfect medium for vampires searching for easy access to blood without the ramifications of people investigating the deaths or disappearances.  And it’s not like Graham-Smith was blaming all of slavery on the vampires…he merely wrote of their taking advantage of the situation.

One of the primary reasons why the book club chose Lincoln for this month’s selection is that it has been adapted to the big screen, and will actually be released quite soon.  I think this one of the rare cases when the movie adaptation will actually be better than the book.  Not only will it translate well, but the format should suppress many of the weaker points in the book – for instance, the often matter-of-fact writing style and the insufficiently described battle scenes.  All in all, the book was entertaining enough, but if you haven’t read it yet, you might just want to wait to see it in theaters.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

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