“Perhaps a man’s character was like a tree, and his reputation like its shadow; the shadow is what we think of it, the tree is the real thing.” Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln compiled and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher and Virginia Fehrenbacher (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1996), p. 43. (found here)
In the case of Abraham Lincoln, his shadow is endless, and his actual character is a tree hidden somewhere inside the opinions, biographies, and loads of letters/official documents that were preserved from the 1800s.
As a work of paranormal fiction/alternate history Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is something a little different.
Indiana, 1818. Moonlight falls through the dense woods that surround a one-room cabin, where a nine-year-old Abraham Lincoln kneels at his suffering mother’s bedside. She’s been stricken with something the old-timers call “Milk Sickness.”
“My baby boy…” she whispers before dying.
Only later will the grieving Abe learn that his mother’s fatal affliction was actually the work of a vampire.
When the truth becomes known to young Lincoln, he writes in his journal, “henceforth my life shall be one of rigorous study and devotion. I shall become a master of mind and body. And this mastery shall have but one purpose…” Gifted with his legendary height, strength, and skill with an ax, Abe sets out on a path of vengeance that will lead him all the way to the White House.
While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years.
Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true life story of our greatest president for the first time-all while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation. (Amazon)
Vampires. Who knew?
As a fan of alternate history, historical fiction, and history (not to mention REAL, non-sparkly vampires), I was prepared to enjoy this book.
And you know what? I did.
Grahame-Smith does a decent job of using the “grand biographical style,” which I actually like, and he did clever work of filling parts of Lincoln’s life with vampires. The photo shopped images of “historical vampires,” while not strictly necessary, are a nice touch.
In short, I was thoroughly absorbed in the story, as was my husband.
Except for two things.
First, the book portrays Lincoln as skeptic/deist/agnostic(?) who is ultimately mad at God for allowing vampires to be created. Putting the latter comments to the side, because arguing about the interaction of Divine Sovereignty in the case of mythical creatures is a long rabbit hole, this skepticism/deism is raw and, at times, jarring. I’m not claiming Lincoln was a Christian–there are plenty of arguments on both sides, and honestly, I’m not a master historian. However, from a reader’s perspective, the unrelenting way Grahame-Smith shoved Lincoln’s spiritual anger and struggles into the story made me lose focus in the narrative and become keenly aware of the author’s intentions instead.
The second issue is closely linked to the first. The use of profanity. Now, there are sources who say Lincoln didn’t use profanity, and others who said he might have used a little. In any case, he purported to be a moral man and have a fine sense of how to sway public opinion, so in the unlikely event that he did have a foul mouth, he didn’t show it. Therefore, the use of profanity in the book, even though it was supposed to come from Lincoln’s private diary, was jarring. It felt like Grahame-Smith was trying to appeal to modern sensibilities. Since the very idea of Abraham Lincoln and vampires is already modern, the profanity felt like overkill.
Final Verdict: a good read, as long as you know what you’re getting into. Don’t expect this to have a lot of historical accuracy (consider the title), but also expect to be pleasantly surprised with the degree of fictional detail. Also, there’s a lot of killing (both of vampires and by vampires), and with that comes a lot of graphic description.
As always, Read the Extraordinary. Responsibly.
And stay tuned for the upcoming review on the movie adaption: