Saturday, April 16, 2011
Book Review: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is set up to mimic a non-fiction account of the life of the iconic 16th President of the United States. In the beginning, the author is given Lincoln's journals, and from there the story is a mesh between excerpts from the journals and information we assume was gathered from other sources. It was certainly unique, and I'm glad I read it; but I believe it could have been much better.
I won't go too far into describing the story, as I think the title basically says it all. Many people close to Lincoln during his life are killed by vampires (most distressingly his mother), and he basically grows up hunting them. (Of course vampires are involved in the American Civil War, but I won't spoil anything there.) It could have been such an interesting story; and don't get me wrong, occasionally it was. But the author tries a little too hard to make it non-fiction-y, and I was often bored. I'm not bored by non-fiction as a rule, but when I'm expecting to read a fiction story about vampires, I don't care much about all the names, dates, and contents of boats heading down the Mississippi. If I wanted factual stuff like that, I would read a biography of Lincoln. And because I don't have a lot of information memorized about Lincoln, I had no idea while reading this novel what was actually fact and what had been made up to fit the story. So when the reading got rough, I skimmed to the interesting parts. And I skimmed a lot.
I was also somewhat annoyed by the portions of the book that were not taken from Lincoln's journals, where the author was relating or summarizing other information to move the story along. Sometimes, I liked these parts better than the journal bits. But the author often relates what a character, Lincoln or otherwise, was thinking, or for example that someone "lifted their eyes" before saying something. How in the world would a biographer know any of this? If you're going to plunge into a writing style, don't wear arm floaties; go all the way. You don't get to also be a regular, descriptive novelist at the same time.
That being said: 1) I think the book would have been better if it had only been written as Abe Lincoln's journal, or if it had been written entirely as a regular ol' fiction story. And 2) The best part of the book in my opinion was the portion told from John Wilkes Booth's perspective. No journal entries intruded, and there probably weren't many historical facts to deal with in the way of knowing what Booth was like, what his motivations were, etc. The author had more freedom here, and it showed. I only wish more of the book had been from his perspective, or from anyone else's perspective not tied down to such an overload of facts.
But THAT being said... Abraham Lincoln probably would have made a pretty good vampire hunter. Just saying.