BY SEAN CLARK
Author: Seth Grahame-Smith
Seth Grahame-Smith is the same guy who wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and it shows. This is a good thing, PPZ was excellent–a great mix of classic literature and zombie mayhem. The transition from “literary mash-up” to fake biography was a wise move–the Quirk books after PPZ have been disappointing. I lamented that Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (review) wasn’t as good because it was too inventive, and not true enough to its source. But basically I figured that Winters just wasn’t as good as Grahame-Smith. I’m currently about halfway through Android Karenina, also by Winters, and while it’s not all that good either, I’m realizing it’s not so much the author’s lack of talent but lack of novelty: a truly good horror/literary mash-up probably will only work once.
This book is not a drastic departure from its predecessor but it manages to feel fresh. ALVH is made of the same essence; I’d call it respectful parody. This novel is written in the manner of a biography, as if Lincoln’s secret journals fell into Grahame-Smith’s lap. It works well. (He said in an author interview he was inspired to write this because he found it curious seeing a bunch of Abe Lincoln bios sitting beside Twilight on a bookstore bestseller shelf.)
Here’s the basic gist of the story. Young Abe learns of vampires from his drunk father, whose own father was sucked dry by a vampire. Later, his first love is killed by one of the superhuman bloodsuckers. The years go on and Abe commits his life to the eradication of vampires. His motivations are explained further, and incorporate actual historical events and characters, but I won’t spoil them. His work in law and politics provides him plenty of cover for nighttime vampire hunts, whether traveling with a circuit court, campaigning, etc., he always finds some time to hunt out the blight. He mostly uses his father’s trusty axe. In short this book is actually what it purports to be, a story about an Abe Lincoln who is pretty badass.
He’s also kind of a dick, but, interestingly enough, a just one. I found this interesting mostly because it’s kind of the impression I already had of the real Lincoln. (I’ve never read a Lincoln bio, so my knowledge is basically a mix of Discovery Channel documentaries and remnants of 5th grade social studies class). There’s a good reason Lincoln biographies are so popular: even on the surface, actual Lincoln seems like a multifaceted character. He’s tender (namely from the stories of his, er, close relations with fellow soldiers), a hero emancipator, a calculating military leader, and gentle and down-to-earth Honest Abe. When you add to that a determination to rid the world of a race of maneaters one ax hack at a time, you’ve got yourself a complex character.
Then, of course, there’s the Civil War. Real life politics are twisted and threaded into the book’s vampire plot with a fairly skillfully. In Grahame-Smith’s history, the rich whites down of the South wanted slavery to remain primarily as part of a bargain with the vampires (to eat the slaves and spare the wealthy whites). This works pretty well for a plot. I had a bit of a problem in that it trivialized a bit for me the emanipation of slaves. Granted, a large part of the real emancipation was motivated politically and economically and not a moment solely motivated by human rights. But the added vampire plot changes this balance even more. Abe’s much more interested in removing the vampires than saving their food, no matter the skin color. I thought it could have been done better, but this is work of humor, not historical reportage.
So while it’s humor and not the type of book you’d pick up for great literary depth, the writing is good. It reads convincingly enough like a professional biography. The action and horror scenes, as I’m sure you’re dying to know, are pleasingly gruesome and campy. If you read PPZ or you think it sounds awesome, you’ll like this book. If you read Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter in my post title and we’re intrigued at all, then you’ll like this book. It’s quick and fun and bloody, plus maybe you’ll learn something about our 16th president and his undead-slaying prowess.
[The review is of the unabridged audiobook version.]