Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith is a supernatural fantasy, alternate history novel that I picked up because I was in the mood to read a dark, vampire story that would also be fast-paced. Oh boy, not only did I not get what I was looking for, I also found myself utterly sapped of any reading energy whatsoever during this experience.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is the untold biography of the sixteenth president of the United States, starting with his birth in 1809 and taking us all the way up through his assassination in 1865. It is told via narration by Seth Grahame-Smith and via intimate journal entries made by President Abe throughout his lifetime, chronicling his discovery of the existence of vampires and how he became involved in killing them.
The novel is really rather average across the board. There were some good qualities and some not-so-great qualities, and then some oh-my-this-is-terrible qualities, of which I’ll focus in that respective order. I do believe that there will be readers who will very much adore this type of narrative, while others will want to turn around and run away. Let’s see where you fall in those categories! (Neither category is a bad one to be in, at all, after all personal taste is the spice of life in the book dragon curry sauce).
One of the things I loved about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is the way vampires are portrayed. They are conveyed to be vicious monsters, and there is no sexy, romantic affiliation to them. We have one, maybe two vampires who show traits resembling human nature, but even then they aren’t dripping with irresistible good looks and moistening the loins of people everywhere. They are just noble people. I cannot begin to express in words how much of a relief that was to read!
Because they are such violent and immoral beings, they are depicted as such in their mannerism when they are attacking and it follows through into a much larger picture: slavery and the Civil War. Slavery, in this novel, is viewed as being a consequence of vampiric social manipulation. In order to maintain “peace,” certain powerful creatures of the night pay humans to enslave black people to be fed to said vampires. All of this eventually plays into the Civil War—causes and ending—in some intricate and slightly convoluted ways. I honestly haven’t read anything like it, and in hindsight, it is quite an interesting and creative twist to the vampire mythos, as well as to American history as a whole.
Nevertheless… slavery is used as a plot mechanic, a big fucking one, and it will not sit well with some readers. To be perfectly blunt, when this concept first arose in the narrative, I felt unbelievably uncomfortable with it, more as a person of colour who has oppression and forced colonisation/assimilation in their cultural history. I just didn’t appreciate the way it was written out. Inevitably, it all felt sensationally like a White Saviour situation, and that all black people should be thankful to Abe for saving their “savage existences” from brutal deaths by the hands (or fangs) of demons.
Also, it raises questions about Abe Lincoln’s intentions with emancipating slaves, and in the book it feels like he does see black people are lesser beings to an extent, just not low enough to be used as food for monsters. This part kind of floundered from one side to the next in subtle ways. It could more than likely just be a case of personal interpretation, as there really is some wiggle room to go either way in this regard.
Now, I do understand very clearly that because of the time period of the novel—19th century America—and the attempt at staying as authentic as possible to that time period, my issues with how slavery is used and portrayed could be argued as the author’s attempt at retaining a genuine atmosphere and ambiance to that era. However, I have read plenty of other books that take place during the same era, or even much earlier, that didn’t make my skin scrawl the way that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter did. All in all, it came off as unnecessarily discomforting and prejudiced.
I do want to note that my personal experience with this book will be very different from other people’s experiences, including black readers. Some may feel offended, some won’t, some may not care either way, or have completely other opinions—I’m not speaking for them; I can’t speak for them and that is perfectly okay. My opinion is wholly subjective and my own, and not meant to be taken as the voice for all readers of colour. It’s just my own heart and mind doing its own bloody thing.
Something else that I initially liked about the book were Abe’s personal accounts. There are small sections of his dairy rather than full pages and they are used to compliment specific scenes and scenarios to help the audience gain a feeling for what’s happening. They did feel like they were the authentic voice of Abe Lincoln (not that I knew him personally or anything, ha!) and matched his personality to what I have seen depicted in non-fiction literature. So, in this specific quality, I feel the author did a phenomenal job. In some situations it really flattered the events unfolding, but after a short while, I became immensely frustrated with bouncing between entries and the third-party narration. I strongly believe that the novel would have felt more cohesive and complete, not to mention far more fluid, if it stuck to one style over the other. The switching between the two, especially given some of the inconsistencies with their length, contributed only to making the reading experience pointlessly slow and even repetitive towards the second half. The enforced emphasis of some ideas made me feel like the reader would be too dumb to comprehend what is going on, or what was meant (for example in conversation), so it just needed to be said over and over.
The writing style also came off obstinate. This may be attributed to the author trying to retain that air of authenticity to the time period, particularly where vernacular, mannerisms, and etiquette are concerned, as well as giving efforts to create an intellective impression, yet the results ended up being forced (again) and boring, even during the fight scenes!
Other minor titbits that killed the fun included uninteresting or clichéd plot twists (some were far too convenient or purposefully included for mere shock value), not nearly as much violence and slaying as I had anticipated, and a godawful sluggish rate of progression. It took me so bleeding long to finish this book! I was in complete shock when it finally did happen because I honestly never believed I’d reach that last page. The only reason I did not DNF it was because I wanted to read about how the assassination would play out. Spoiler alert: it was basic as hell.
Overall, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a supremely average novel with terrible rate of development, unintelligent writing, unoriginal and overused plot twists, with a painfully unnerving use of slavery as a plot mechanic, and you know what? It was still better than the film.
I recommend his novel to people who are fans of American history (Civil War ear) and alternate history stories who are looking for a basic-as-hell romp of supernatural intrigue, and who don’t mind slower paced books. I do not recommend this book if you want something action-heavy and fast-paced, or a story that is super twisted in delicious dark fantasy.
2.75 axes outta 5!
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