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Onyx reviews: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire
Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
Not long ago, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter would have been called
alternate history but, thanks to Seth Grahame-Smith's earlier work, Pride and
Prejudice and Zombies (PPZ), a new classification has emerged: the literary mash-up. This
sub-sub-genre is all the rage at the moment, though it probably (hopefully) won't last
long. PPZ arose from an inspired idea and became a bestseller, but most of the
subsequent imitators have been less inspired and, for the most part, seem like
attempts to cash in on Grahame-Smith's success.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a little different than PPZ. Instead of
tinkering with a public domain novel, the author rewrites history. The 16th
US president wasn't just an inspirational speaker with strong abolitionist beliefs,
and the Commander in Chief during the Civil War, he was, according to this novel, a
determined and ferocious slayer of
A prologue "explains" the existence of this book. A fictitious
version of Seth
Grahame-Smith is entrusted with previously unknown Lincoln diaries that relate
this secret history. The books are given to him by a vampire who wants this aspiring
but failed writer to write about the diaries. The resulting book features excerpts from
the diaries (some consisting of Lincoln's real, documented writings, or variations
thereof, generally taken out of context) but, for the most part, it is a
narrative account of Lincoln's life, told in third person. Unfortunately, the prologue is devoid of payoff.
The book contains no insight into the effect these revelations have on either
Grahame-Smith or its ultimate audience.
Lincoln's motivation is clear—his mother was killed by one of these repugnant
creatures, many of whom migrated to America from Europe, intent on taking over
the New World. Though most people are oblivious to their existence,
a small cadre of wealthy Southerners supports them. In what is probably the
book's most controversial conceits, it turns out that slavery is motivated by more
than being a source of cheap labor. Infirm and aging slaves
are sold to the vampires as fodder. In return, the vampires back politicians and
policies that support the status quo of slavery.
Grahame-Smith tinkers with the vampire mythos to a certain extent. New
vampires suffer from exposure to the sun, but as they get older this is less of
an affliction. His vampires are strong and powerful, able to leap across rivers
in a single bound, but they are not vulnerable to many of the
standard totems: crosses, garlic, holy water. They can be beheaded and even shot
Lincoln embarks on a solitary mission to hunt down and destroy as many of
these creatures as possible while simultaneously eking out a living and breaking
into politics. Many of his victims live in plain sight, operating
businesses, living on plantations. However,
his mission is limited by his resources. During one nocturnal attack along the
banks of the Mississippi,
he is captured by a vampire named Henry Sturges, who has an agenda of his own.
Not all vampires are the same, and many oppose the Southern cabal that is behind the slave trade. The real "Union" is, in fact, a group
of like-minded vampires who use mortals like Lincoln as assassins of the more
malignant vampires. Sturges becomes Lincoln's "handler," periodically
sending him assignments that name vampires who need to be destroyed sooner
rather than later. Lincoln is only too happy to comply...up to a point.
Grahame-Smith weaves this secret part of Lincoln's life into his known
biography. It isn't an alternate history, therefore, since all of the touch
points of Lincoln's history are conserved as the framework of his story. However, there
are vampires everywhere, and they are responsible for some of the greatest
tragedies in his life, including the death of his first love, and the loss of at
least one of his children.
Apart from diminishing the reprehensible nature of slavery by assigning
responsibility to supernatural creatures, Grahame-Smith relies too much on
dream sequences to generate shocks. The first dream in which terrible things
happen to Lincoln or to those he loves has some emotional impact, but by the
time the third or fourth disaster is revealed to be only a dream, the approach
becomes a cheap trick.
Constrained by history, the book's progress is somewhat inevitable, and the
last twenty or thirty pages, which deal with the well-known vampire John Wilkes
Booth, are pretty much by the numbers.
The book is lightly illustrated with doctored
photographs showing Lincoln in the company of vampires, living or destroyed, and in
one case with Edgar Allan Poe, who sought out vampires for their stories rather
than to slay them. It might inspire readers
to become interested in the real life of one of America's most famous
presidents, but one can't be sure if any of the personality the author gives to
Lincoln is real or fictitious. Fortunately, the novel doesn't take itself too seriously. The book is a slight piece of entertainment and
hopefully one of the last entries in a passing fad.
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