Saturday, January 08, 2011

GoodReads Review: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire HunterAbraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blending biographical fact (almost) seamlessly with the fantastic, this book creates an impressive secret history for president Lincoln, infusing it from his earliest days with the spectral presence of vampires. It is also accompanied by illustrations, which are cleverly photoshopped and/or reinterpreted to highlight the influence of vampires in Lincoln's life.

This book is written in the style of many immersive biographies, and in general, carries it off quite well. There were some hitches, though: I found the frame narration explaining how the author had gotten his hands on Lincoln's vampire-hunting journals unnecessary and thought it confused reader expectations. If Lincoln did have such a journal, why not just publish it, rather than an interpretation?

The journal segments aren't always spliced well, either: occasionally, one sentence will be plopped into the middle of a narrative passage, jerking one back and forth. The majority of the excerpts are better handled, though.

The final stylistic issue is with the dream sequences. These are again a huge confusion, because they aren't prefaced as dreams, so disorientation ensues. I guess they were meant to foreshadow Lincoln's famous last dream, but it just didn't work for me.

As far as the incorporation of vampires, I was wholeheartedly impressed. Grahame-Smith incorporates vampire lore into Roanoke and the life of Edgar Allan Poe, as well as invoking the connection with Erzsebet Bathory. I was worried that the connection between vampires and the Civil War / slavery would be spuriously, but it’s simply and convincingly connected. On the flip side, I did get a bit exasperated when everything in the book came back to vampires (or the author made a point of clarifying / reminding us when it didn’t).

High marks, too, for the handling of vampires: they’re clearly monstrous, and the mystique and charm of them is handled without it ever predominating.

Overall, this is a solid, well-executed read, an entertaining story that makes good use of its form. It’s a fun play on history.

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