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26 Mar 2012

Review: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

Indiana, 1818. Moonlight falls through the dense woods that surround a one-room cabin, where a nine-year-old Abraham Lincoln kneels at his suffering mother's bedside. She's been stricken with something the old-timers call "Milk Sickness."

"My baby boy..." she whispers before dying.

Only later will the grieving Abe learn that his mother's fatal affliction was actually the work of a vampire.

When the truth becomes known to young Lincoln, he writes in his journal, "henceforth my life shall be one of rigorous study and devotion. I shall become a master of mind and body. And this mastery shall have but one purpose..." Gifted with his legendary height, strength, and skill with an axe, Abe sets out on a path of vengeance that will lead him all the way to the White House.

While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years.

Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true life story of our greatest president for the first time-all while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation.

I know it might look cheesy to some and a really terrible idea.  The trailer is making some viewers cringe on youtube and they're unsure about paying to watch the film adaptation or buying the book to try out.  I say if you want to try the book or the film out, go for it.  I found it a fun read. :) I actually got quite hooked on it, spending hours reading it.  I'd tell myself I'll finish the chapter off and then start the next one.  Of course I knew it was complete fiction but I was so fascinated by learning more about this fictional Abraham Lincoln. 

What makes the premise work well is how Grahame-Smith connects vampires with slavery, adding more motive onto the future president.  Again, I know it's not real.  But it fits in nicely with actual history, subtle so it's in the background and secretly hidden from the history we know about.  I liked the portrayal of vampires in the book.  They mingled in society, making connections with those of wealth and high status.  They hid but not completely in the shadows and most of them were very happy being by themselves instead of packs.  They weren't all evil, a mixture of good and bad.  And they still remained otherworldly with their strength and brutality in their attacks. 

I think the book has also made Abraham Lincoln one of the most awesome fictional vampire hunters.  The story sees Abe grow from a young, naive boy to a committed, lethal vampire hunter, skilled with an axe and hatred for the undead.  He's quite a tragic figure with plenty of loss in his life and his reactions are completely realistic and human.  It breaks him.  He has times when he just wants to give up but he comes back until he knows it's time to retire and focus on his duties as president, husband, and father. 

The presentation of the book was the weakest aspect.  I think I would have liked to have seen more imagination put into it.  The narrative switches from Seth Grahame-Smith's biographical narration to a journal entry from Abe constantly throughout the story.  It could have been better if the author had got his hands on a larger collection of primary sources, using real speeches, pictures or journal entries that could suggest vampires in his history.  Maybe play around with things and add in the fiction where necessary. 

Overall, it was an interesting attempt at mixing history with fiction but the layout could have been more creative and fun.  Still, it's an entertaining read and something to take very lightly. 


  1. Seth Grahame-Smith's re-imagined biographies always make me smile when I see them--they seem so ridiculous. And yet there's something about them that is garnishing popular appeal. In fact, I read not too long ago Abraham Lincoln historians praising the book for its fidelity to history (not the vampire bits, of course), and for being a fun entrance into learning about this president.

    Thanks for this review, and for shedding light on why these books are so popular. :)

  2. I've seen a lot of reviewers on goodreads who say they weren't impressed with the story. I think they took the book seriously or assume it's serious when they see the trailer. If there's anything I'll stress about the book it's the fact that it's just pure fun and entertainment. Have a laugh reading it. :)