By Amy Desselle
He ended slavery. He saved the Union. He was honest to a fault.
The history books will tell you one tale of Abraham Lincoln’s trials and tribulations but Seth Grahame-Smith will tell you another, taken from Lincoln’s personal journals; journals that reveal his gruesome adventures as America’s greatest vampire hunter.
When you pick up “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” Seth Grahame-Smith’s latest venture into historical fantasy land, you must suspend all disbelief.
Grahame-Smith is going to turn almost every historical event you thought you knew into something new, dark and alive with secret conspiracies (not to mention riddled with vampires): the mysterious disappearance of the 113 settlers at Roanoke Colony, the death of his “first love” Ann Rutledge, his election.
One success of the book is the way it’s framed. A mysterious “man” delivers the old journals and demands that Grahame-Smith write a biography of the 16th president. And he does. The book could fit seamlessly onto the shelves next to the historical biographies penned by the likes of David McCullough.
The book takes flight from the moment Grahame-Smith opens these secret journals. The writing is as fast-paced as the plot, which covers Lincoln’s life from a young child swearing to “kill every vampire in America” after the murder of his mother to his own assassination more than 50 years later.
Honest Abe is guided through his hunts by a mysterious vampire mentor, spends hours in dark New Orleans bars with Edgar Allen Poe, recruits new members for his vampire hunting team and devises his own killing tools (although his go-to is always his trusty axe hidden under the long, black coat). There’s an overarching vampire conspiracy that both corrals Lincoln into the presidency and incites the Civil War.
The bloody murders presented every few pages or so are cut with moments of wit and historical anecdotes. Grahame-Smith injects his humor into footnotes and grainy black and white photos—the vampires circled and enlarged for the reader’s benefit.
There is not one moment of hesitation or clue in the narrative that this isn’t exactly how history took place. The mash-up between fact and fiction is woven together seamlessly and will have you resisting the urge to Google some of the plot points to validate them.
The key issues of slavery and the Civil War become a central problem in the book though. While Grahame-Smith tries to present the dreadfulness of slavery and how it galvanized Lincoln, he only manages to cheapen it.
In the book, slavery is reduced to little more than a cruel plot created by vampires so that they can feed freely. This is accompanied by the rather obvious comparison of slavery to vampirism. If his intention was to point out the tragedy and horror of the slave trade and what it actually said about the state of America at the time, then perhaps minimizing the issue wasn’t the correct way to go about it.
That aside, the book is compelling on every other level. Grahame-Smith is appealing not only to the vampire craze that has swept the nation but also to anyone who enjoys a good, fun read, except perhaps a history buff. The lively writing will draw you in, the twists will keep you guessing and the drama will keep the pages turning until John Wilkes Booth’s inevitable appearance.Contact Amy Desselle.