Monday, March 1, 2010
Forget almost everything you've ever learned about Abraham Lincoln and his life. Sure, he was the 16th President of The United States who led the nation through the Civil War. But that was only a front for what he really was: a hunter and killer of vampires!
That at least is the claim of Seth Grahame-Smith, the author of "Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter," due for release to book stores everywhere this week (March 2, 2010). Grahame-Smith was also the author of last year's surprise best-seller, "Pride And Prejudice And Zombies" in which he re-imagined the classic novel by Jane Austen to include killer zombies.
Now, Grahame-Smith has chosen to re-imagine not a classic novel, but a towering figure of American history, Abraham Lincoln. Grahame-Smith was recently befriended (so we're told) by a mysterious stranger, who gave him a package of old diaries which turned out to be the long-lost Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln. All we've ever known about Lincoln has been turned upside down. Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, didn't die of "milk sickness." No, she was killed by a vampire who was seeking a debt from Lincoln's father, Thomas. When Thomas later reveals the truth, young Abe dedicates himself to destroying all vampires.
Grahame-Smith has reconstructed the hidden story of Abe through the journals and interviews with others mentioned by the mysterious stranger. We see young Abraham build his body and perfect his hunting and tracking skills as he pursues vampires. He develops an amazing skill with his trusty ax, able to hit targets by flinging it from up to 30 feet away. Abe encounters his own stranger who proceeds to reveal to him what his purpose will be in life.
Not only does the author take us through Abraham Lincoln's life, he also weaves the famous Lost Colony of Roanoke, Edgar Allen Poe, Barack Obama, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. into the narrative. It all seems to be sheer insanity.
Yet, somehow it works. It works well. The reader is treated to a novel which is at times gripping, sometimes moving, and all the while highly entertaining. Though the book is more than 330 pages long, it never drags and keeps the attention of the reader.
The best feature of this book is the skill with which Grahame-Smith blends historical fact with the absurdity of the involvement of vampires in Lincoln's life. Other than the vampires, all other characters presented here did exist. Most events are accurate, while a few are imagined (the real Lincoln did not not travel to Mississippi to confront the real Jefferson Davis, for example). Dates are also mostly accurate. Real photos or prints depicting Lincoln or the Civil War are shown, but have been "doctored" to further the vampire story. In fact, the blending of fact and fiction is done so well that many readers may not know when events and photos have been faked.
I enjoyed the book a great deal, with a few caveats. The first two parts of the book (Boy and Vampire Hunter) are very well-done with excellent character development. The reader can almost feel that he or she is in New Orleans with Abe, or while he's tracking a vampire along the Mississippi. We follow Abe as he grows from a young boy into a young man and leaves his father and step-mother to be on his own in New Salem, Illinois where he meets Ann Rutledge.
The final part of the book, when Abraham Lincoln becomes president of the United States, seemed to me to be rushed at times. We see Lincoln as he is elected, when he travels to see McClellan at Antietam, when he gives his Gettysburg Address and his inaugural speeches, and as he deals with his cabinet. The events surrounding his death are especially presented very quickly. I believe a few extra pages, no more than 20 or 30, would have permitted the author to further explain John Wilkes Booth's motivation behind the reasons he chose assassination over an initial kidnapping plot, even if it was a fictionalized account.
I suppose it doesn't make much sense to point out some inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the book, but they did bother me. A reference to Lincoln's 53rd birthday gives his birth date as February 9th instead of February 12th! The names of Lincoln's sons Willie and Eddie are sometimes misspelled as "Willy" and "Eddy," while they are spelled correctly in other instances in the book. It's the responsibility of the author to assure accuracy, but better editing would have caught these problems.
When I was first asked to review "Abraham Lincoln : Vampire Hunter" by the publisher, I was tempted to laugh it off. Then I found out that The Smithsonian Institution and Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum have both held (or will soon hold) appearances by the author for discussions and book signings. I figured if the book is important enough for those institutions to highlight, then it should be for me, too.
I recommend this book. It's fun, entertaining, and even informative. Above all, it just might make more people interested in Abraham Lincoln, the real person. And that is a good thing.
4.0 out of 5.0 axes (The image is real. It's a close-up of the final ax Abraham Lincoln used, approximately one week before his death. Not to kill vampires, though.)
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 8:27 PM