Monday, March 1, 2010

Book Review - Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter

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.)


eka said...


I've been anticipating this book but had no clue it would be out so soon.

I was so excited to hear about the concept, though I haven't read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. To be honest, I just love reading about Lincoln. Even if it's fiction.

No doubt this would have made him chuckle :)

Thanks for the review!

Rebecca said...

That has got to be the most unique book about Lincoln I've heard about. But I'm not really surprised considering all the hype about vampires these days and the fact that they are everywhere in the media!

JCL said...

Have you seen the 20 minute short film where Lincoln IS a vampire?

Check out for more information on "The Transient." I think it is on youtube as well!

Chris said...

Glad to see a review of this book! I originally thought it was kind of silly, and so do some of the other Lincoln people I know, but maybe it'll help draw more attention to Lincoln.

(By the way, I'm having trouble commenting on your blog - I keep getting an "OpenID Error" when I try to use it. It worked before so I'm not sure if Blogger changed something or what.)

My name means Wisdom said...

I loved this book, the entire family did actually. We drove down to Springfield for the book discussion and signing and made a whole day of it at the ALPM and other Lincoln sites.

I did feel the same way about the last section. It jumped through pretty quickly, but we chalked it up as Abe needing to take care of business in D.C. and not having as much time to see to important Vampire hunting.

I wrote up a review of this on my book blog as well today.

Lyntha Tye said...

I saw the book in a bookstore, and the title sounded interesting and weird at the same time. I was unsure if I should purchase it, but after reading your in depth review, I think I am going to buy it. Thank you for this review!

Tom said...

He was able to throw his axe 30 yards (90 feet), not 30 feet.

Kanes said...

Thanks for your insight!
I'm wondering if you would recommend this book for a pre-teen avid reader who is interested in reading this book. (He has already read the "Twilight" series - thus the interest in Vampire related stuff, and many historical biographies as well). Mom and Dad are leery because of the graphic cover (and back cover) artwork and are wondering how gory the content is. Can you speak to this?
We might just have to add this to our family reading cue... Thanks!

Geoff Elliott said...

Hi "Kanes",

This is Geoff, the author of The Abraham Lincoln Blog. Thanks for dropping by.

I've not read the Twilight series nor seen the movies, so I'm not sure how the "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" stacks up in gore to that series.

If the pre-teen in question is mature enough to handle the concept of vampires or vampirism, then I would say that the "Vampire Hunter" book is probably safe enough for him or her.

There is one scene which could be considered a bit gruesome where slaves are killed by vampires, but in general, the gore is really not too bad.

If it helps, let me admit publicly that vampire movies creep me out and I tend to avoid them. I would never watch "Salem's Lot" or "Underworld" for example.

That said, there was nothing in this book that gave me nightmares or even bad dreams. And I'm 48 years old. :-)

Just remind the pre-teen member of your family that there is no such thing as a vampire, that Lincoln was NOT a vampire hunter, and that there is no "Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln." Most of the historical facts in the book are correct, but there are a couple of incorrect dates, etc.

And Lincoln's mother and sons were most assuredly not killed by vampires. You'd be surprised at how many people think this book is true.

Hope this helps.

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