Here I come again with another post that has nothing to with Star Wars. For that matter, this post has nothing to do with Science Fiction, either. Really, this post is about a geeky book. You’ve heard of it and if you’re curious like I was, you might appreciate having a review of it.
Up front, I’d like to reiterate that this is a review of the book, not the movie. I have not seen the film and I’m likely to wait it out until the DVD hits. Either that or see the Asylum’s version, Abraham Lincoln Versus Zombies. Because, come on, if Honest Abe is going to fight one brand of the undead, why not take all comers?
This novel’s author, Seth Grahame-Smith, has an interesting history as far as novel writing goes. In the past, he’s written at least one book that have gotten national attention, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. For those of you quietly chuckling to yourself, know that he did not write the quasi-spin offs, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters or Android Karenina. His other work has included quite a few satires, everything from a political satire in which he writes letters to people he believes were wronged by former President Bush over his 8 years to a rather tongue in cheek survival guide for horror movies. Not so much for the audience watching horror movies, but as if you, the reader, were ever likely to find yourself in a horror setting, what you should do and what you should not do if you want to make it. Additionally, Grahame-Smith has worked in comics, television and now, film.
Which bring us to the book in question: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. The book is… interesting. Here’s what I’m going to tell you, I’m going to talk about the style of this novel, not really the plot or anything else. Let’s be honest, the title kind of tells you everything that you need to know concerning the story, doesn’t it?
This novel follows the same kind of formula that his prior novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies did. In that work, he used the pre-existing text as a platform upon which to build instead of trying to rebuild it from the ground up. My wife tells me that there are some scenes in the original text, which I freely admit to not having read, in which there are mentions to a nearby battle or some other kind of kerfuffle going on. Grahame-Smith filled the holes. He filled them with zombies, which are the best kind of filler.
It’s very much the same here. Grahame-Smith isn’t reinventing the wheel; he’s not even putting new tread on it. He’s just kind of putting them on a new vehicle. The narrative is told from an almost, and I do mean almost, historical perspective. The prologue tells us that he, and I do mean the literal author, not a character that’s portraying the author, Seth Grahame-Smith, was gifted by an odd individual with several volumes of handwritten journals that tell the readers the secret history of Abraham Lincoln. He’s been given them for the purpose of making them into a novel.
Because nobody would actually ever write down their own story as they’re living it in the way a novel is written, the book isn’t just a rewrite of the journals and their content. Instead, it uses excerpts from the journals that are framed by a narrative. I suppose what I mean by that is that the story is being told by the new text and the details are added in through the journal excerpts. The sections from the journal are all written in Lincoln’s “own voice” or at least an approximation thereof.
Now, you and I both know that this never happened, so there aren’t any such journal entries pertaining to vampires. However, there are real journals and real history. This is where the novel actually becomes its own brand of insane and brilliant. Like I said before, this is a lot like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so he’s making additions instead of rebuilding.
Throughout the book, the readers are actually getting a good idea of the progression of President Lincoln’s life. He really did boat down the Mississippi in a flat bottomed boat. He really did practice law in Springfield, and he actually had the opinions regarding slavery that are outlined in the text. Those bits are true, and we know they’re true because they were written down by Lincoln’s own hand in addition to what historians have extrapolated from other takes of the man.
Grahame-Smith has just filled in the holes again. Where there are gaps in the text, where things are unexplained, and where it’s convenient to the narrative, he’s written in his story. For instance, why did Lincoln sail down the Mississippi? Well, to turn a buck on one hand, but also for the sake of killing some zombies while he was there. Why did he develop a further distaste for slavery and why was he willing to fight a war over it? Well, vampires were using slaves as cattle.
Ultimately, I can’t recommend this book to everyone. Its historical content is interesting, but it’s really not much more than you’d pick up in a fourth grade social studies book. There are better vampire hunting books out there, like Dracula. Quite a lot of the writing is pretty topical. I know that the author is trying to portray a sense of how this could actually have happened, and he does achieve that, but in doing so, it doesn’t feel terribly enthralling. It actually does kind of read like a textbook on the subject of how Abe Lincoln freed the slaves and just happened to kill vampires along the way.
I’m somewhat torn about the book, to be honest. I really did enjoy it, and it was an interesting way to tell this story, but it feels kind of lacking. The details are all in place, but the core of the story is just okay. So, here’s what I’m going to say; if you enjoy reading about history, if you are intrigued by the life of this rather remarkable man who literally grew from poverty to president, if you want an interesting alternate history about the United States, then you ought to read this book. If you’re looking for a hardcore horror novel, you won’t find it. If you want a novel that really gives you the nitty gritty details of hunting vampires like you might find in a modern action film, it’s not here.
If you’re curious about this book and want to see what the hype is about, knock yourself out. It’s not bad, really, but it’s not a book that’s going to be held up in ten years and lauded in any way. It’s not likely to have a real impact or change the genre at all. But you can’t always read that book, because not every book can be that. For what this is, it’s not bad. Just don’t expect more than what the title offers you.