Review written by Jess Peacock
Walk through any bookstore these days and you’re bound to see some familiar, albeit slightly modified, classic book titles: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter. Little Vampire Women. Jane Slayre. Not to mention my personal favorite, Android Karenina. Over the past two years, the bestseller lists have been inundated with a veritable gold rush of literature’s most iconic and historic characters and stories…with a horrific twist. Kicking off this literary mash-up mad dash was Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2008 novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which transformed Elizabeth Bennet from playful paramour of Mr. Darcy into a zombie killing martial arts expert. The success of Grahame-Smith’s remix of Jane Austen has not only spawned the aforementioned onslaught of imitators (including a prequel: Dawn of the Dreadfuls), it also nabbed the attention of Hollywood, as Natalie Portman is set to produce and star in the film adaptation.
Perhaps bookending this fad, Grahame-Smith is back with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a well-researched and surprisingly emotional novel that suggests an alternate reason for the American Civil War and the rise of arguably our greatest President in history. Written by the author after the discovery of Lincoln’s secret diary, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter shares how young Abe was thrust into destiny after the discovery that his mother, as well as several others close to him, was murdered by vampires.
Confronted with far too much tragedy, fueled by revenge, and driven by the sharpest of minds (not to mention a sharper ax), Lincoln sets off into a world filled with vampires, intent on playing some role in an end to the secret scourge plaguing our young nation.
As would be expected, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is chock full of historical cameos, not the least of which is the inclusion of Edgar Allen Poe, who explains to Lincoln that the vampires are being pushed out of Europe due to the bloody excesses of the notorious Elizabeth Bathory, only to find anonymity and a steady food supply (i.e. slaves) in America’s south. Unfortunately, Mr. Poe meets his end on the streets of Baltimore under mysterious circumstances soon after encountering Lincoln, denying us the pairing of an occult battling dynamic duo.
Nevertheless, the metaphor of vampirism in relation to slavery is surprisingly prescient here, as we are a nation built by enslaving, feeding off of, and growing strong from the blood of an entire race of people. Despite what seems like just another capricious book title designed to squeeze a few more dollars from the genre crossover fad, Grahame-Smith handles this historically sensitive issue with surprising taste and grace. In addition, Lincoln’s assassination, which could have easily devolved into the realm of action cliché, is treated with the magnitude and solemnity it deserves.
In the end, Seth Grahame-Smith avoids the clownish and ridiculous to construct a novel that speaks to the heart of our national history and identity, while also serving up plenty of the genre staples that readers are hoping for. Fast-paced and fun with surprising depth to its characters, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a must read for horror and history fans alike.