Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith follows a similar structure to his earlier book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in that it combines existing material with the fantastical. The premise of the book is that American President Abraham Lincoln’s life was spent hunting vampires as well as abolishing slavery.
A mix of genres
Now, straight historical biography is not a genre I tend to read very often; I’d rather be transported to a new world than learn about someone who lives or lived in ours. I found this particular combination of hard fact and fantastical fiction to be both fun and somewhat informative. A reader of this book would not finish it with an encyclopedic knowledge of Lincoln’s life – I must admit I kept Wikipedia on hand to check historical facts – but he may know more about him than he did previously, and possibly be inspired to learn more. It should be pointed out that as a Brit, my knowledge of American history is sketchy at best. It may be that American readers will learn little that is new to them. They however may enjoy trying to guess how the author will incorporate certain events into the vampire mythology.
One aspect I particularly enjoyed was the overarching theme connecting both the historical and supernatural; the idea of not judging an individual by the group to which he or she belongs. This plays out both in Abraham’s attitude towards the vampires as well as the real world issue of race relations and slavery.
Pacing and structure
I found the pacing of the novel to be fast – almost too fast at some points. Sometimes I had the impression Grahame Smith was doing a simple join-the-dots puzzle. By that I mean he highlighted several well-documented events in Lincoln’s life and built the vampire mythology around them, for example the deaths of Lincoln’s first love and his sons. These were very well done in themselves, but I would have the author’s going into more depth in many places and expanded upon them.
The novel also breaks its own framing structure; it begins with Seth Grahame Smith’s being presented with Lincoln’s diaries by a vampire, upon which he supposedly based the book. However, he fails to close this framing structure by not ending the book with a note from the author.
The cultural card
I should point out that as a non-American, my knowledge of America’s 16th President is sketchy at best, so I enjoyed learning a little more about Lincoln’s life and work. My enjoyment was probably enhanced also by the fact that, as a Brit, I have no cultural baggage regarding this historical figure. I can imagine that some readers may not be comfortable with the liberties taken with the life of a significant historical character the same way that others did not enjoy Austen’s Pride and Prejudice’s forming the basis of Grahame Smith’s earlier work. I notice a series has recently been commissioned with Britain’s Queen Victoria as a vampire – it will be interesting to see if I have the same reaction.
Why should you read this book?
Assuming you have no objections to historical figures being imported into vampire fiction, and despite its flaws, this is a fun read. The overarching theme of not judging individuals by their group is well presented and forms a cohesive link between historical fact and vampire fiction. Don’t expect any insights into Lincoln’s mind though!