|Love the cover art!|
I bought this book after seeing the trailer for the movie adaptation, amid murmurs from the audience of “seriously?” and “is this a joke?” Obviously these folks weren’t familiar with Mr. Grahame-Smith’s book, but it’s clear they found the premise absurd. I’m sure the author realized that, but thanks to his considerable talents, he’s crafted a fun and very good read. Yet before I could appreciate this, I had to realize something: this book is not just historical fantasy – rather, it is seriously altered history.
Spoiler alert beyond this point. You see, other than the fact that this Abe Lincoln is a secret vampire hunter when he’s not serving in Congress or as president, the central premise is that slavery and the Civil War was all driven by vampires. They viewed slaves as a convenient food source, so they needed the Confederacy to defeat the Union, hoping to someday enslave the whole human race. So this doesn’t just cross a fine line between history and fantasy, it abolishes that line by transforming one of the most significant events in U.S. history into a secret war between Southern vampires and vampire hunters, like good 'ole Abe.
|I can see how audiences might find this a little strange ...|
Once I was able to accept the book’s premise, I found Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to be a very good read. Seth Grahame-Smith does a wonderful job with Lincoln as a character, chronicling his life from boyhood to the presidency, and mixing real history with his version of altered history so expertly, I often found myself going back to the encyclopedia to figure out which parts were “real” and which were not. Obviously, I don’t mean the vampire elements, but, for example, the Abe in this book is friends with Edgar Allen Poe. I thought that was cool, but wondered if it was real (it’s not; indeed, one blogger on Abraham Lincoln has a post devoted to which parts of the book reflect real history, and which parts don’t). The author tracks real history fairly well, but then alters it in both subtle and extreme ways by tying slavery and the Civil War to the designs of Southern vampires. The end result is a well-written, entertaining yarn that’s part vampire novel, part history lesson, and I would recommend it to anyone willing to take suspension of disbelief a step further than the norm.
Now for a brief cautionary note: Although I enjoyed this novel, at times I wondered if obliterating the line between history and fantasy comes with a price. Some events in history are so important that we run the risk of diminishing them in the name of fiction. For example, if a story suggested that Martin Luther King made his stand not only to bring equality to African Americans, but also because those who opposed his cause were werewolves, it could cheapen Dr. King's tremendous work. Likewise, Lincoln's emancipation of America's slaves was one of the most noble acts in U.S. history. Slavery was one of the ultimate evils, but to suggest Lincoln was the Great Emancipator not only because slavery is wrong, but also because slavery fed the cause of Southern vampires, threatens to diminish the greatness of the real Lincoln’s achievements. That said, this is a work of fantasy and anyone who reads the title goes into it knowing it’s fantasy, so it’s hard to be critical of the novel. After all, works of fantasy are read for enjoyment, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter certainly fits that bill.