Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Last year Seth Grahame-Smith became an internationally-recognized author with his horror mash-up PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES. The book is about 70% of Jane Austen’s original work with the other 30% Grahame-Smith’s, filling in the holes of the story with a battle against zombies. The publication and huge success of the book has created a subgenre of literature: the horror mashup. There are now stories about Alice in Wonderland fighting the undead, Queen Victoria fighting demons, Robin Hood slaughtering zombies, as well as several other horror mashups that feature Mr. Darcy as a vampire. In ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, Grahame-Smith has produced another mashup, but one that successfully combines the biography with an alternative historical fiction about American vampire history.

The book begins with an introduction from the author describing how he came into contact with the secret diaries of Abraham Lincoln, how he had them verified as real, etc. The rest of the book, except for the last few pages, are a combination of the writings from Lincoln’s secret journals and a biography of Lincoln as told by the author.

Due to the nature of the book, there might be some confusion about how to read it. Some have read the book expecting a piece of brilliant and bizarre historical fiction, others have expected an exciting piece of horror-action featuring Abe Lincoln, while others seem to expect a graphic horror story. ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE is not written as a historical fiction, as an action story, or as a horror novel. Instead, the book is presented as and written as a biography about Lincoln that explains the secret history of vampires in America. There are some elements of an action story, such as the descriptions of some of the vampire battles, but this is not an action story. There are some scenes of violence described, but other than the involvement of vampires and in some cases real people, there is nothing frightening enough to describe the story as horror.

As a biography about Lincoln, the book is average. Except for the entire fictionalized vampire history, there is nothing new in the book that adds to what we know or has already been written about Lincoln. Of course, it’s the vampire element that makes the book unique.

I really enjoyed reading ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. I thought it was a great fictional biography. But what really impressed me was how much research was involved in meshing the real history of Lincoln with Grahame-Smith’s vampire story. Real names, dates, and events are all used and the actual historical record is in sync with the vampire history. In fact, I learned a great deal about many of Lincoln’s friends as associates as I compared the people mentioned and named in the book to other sources. Take for instance Dr. Joseph McDowell. This was an actual doctor who lived in his medical school in St. Louis. He really did wear a breastplate of armor, he really did go around the area snatching bodies, and his school really was equipped with canons atop. He was known for his erratic behavior, his distrustfulness, and his successionist views. Years after he supposedly died his school was supposed to be one of the most haunted places west of the Mississippi until it was torn down in 1882. If vampires existed, Dr. McDowell would be a prime candidate and in the alternative world of Grahame-Smith, he really is.

There’s also the interesting use of Lincoln’s words. Some of the journal entries contain phrases, sentences, and whole passages that were actually written or spoken by Lincoln in other sources. The author does a fantastic job of using those words and combining them with his own to create the fictional “secret diaries”. The combination is seamless in most cases. I also enjoyed the photographs. Some of the pictures are doctored better than others, but they add a nice element to the book’s premise.

There are only two flaws I had with the book. First, is that as a book it initially only has limited appeal. I think the book will be a major publishing success, but initially people will probably be disappointed because they will all be expecting the book to be different things that it is not, e.g. historical fiction, action story, horror tale. Once people realize that it’s a fictional biography about Lincoln involving vampires (think steam punk with a gothic angle) then it will catch on.

The second flaw I had with the book is the ending. The book creates what is supposed to be an ironic twist, but with everything else that happens in the story the ending feels like a shallow and tacky add-on. It’s the only part of the entire tale that really doesn’t fit.

I found ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER to be both a highly entertaining and informative read. It was much better than I expected it to be. In fact it’s the best book I’ve read so far in 2010.

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