Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

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This promotional video is basically the reason I bought Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (AL:VH from now on). It was the perfect mix of cool concept and cheesy execution; just enough to tickle my B-grade horror movie sensibilities, but not enough to make me roll my eyes.

A few months later (between college and full time work, that was the only time I could seriously think about leisure reading) I ended up at the local bookstore forced to choose between either a steam-punk collection and AL:VH. I chose AL:VH and the first time I tried to read it, I really regretted it–especially since the editor of said steam-punk collection died the next day.

Anyway, fair warning: AL:VH intentionally imitates the style of an Abe Lincoln biography in places. It makes intentional use of dream sequences. It head hops. If you can stand these things, you’re in for a fun read. If you can’t, save yourself the trouble.

Spoilers follow in the rest of the review.

The premise is amazing. If vampires existed, it only makes sense that they’d thrive in a culture that allowed them to buy and sell men like cattle. The execution isn’t so amazing. In adding that the vampires wanted to take over the entire country and turn everyone into slaves, it belittles (unintentionally) a very important time in US black history. There’s this sudden, cynical idea that the vampires were OK until whitey was in danger. It’s never stated implicitly in the book, but I think the author and editorial team could have been a lot more careful to avoid even hinting at it.

If you’re a fan of Abraham Lincoln biographies and you’re willing to poke a little fun at him, this book is certainly worth your time. The author does an amazing job of imitating the tone of an Abe Lincoln biography (as I said above) and also of imitating the writing quirks of the era. Once you get past the idea that the novel is not going to have a typical story arc (since it’s wedging vampires into the actual events of Abe Lincoln’s life), it’s surprisingly immersing. The letters, diary entries, and newspaper articles were well-done enough to keep me engaged. This impressed me especially because my father was a Civil War buff, and I had to read more about the era than I ever, ever wanted to.

The photo doctoring that adds vampire hunting equipment and vampiric features in old pictures and art work featuring Abe doesn’t work very well. They add to the flavor of the story, but they stand up to absolutely zero scrutiny. I wish they’d have worked a little harder, or just made their own photo illustrations imitating old pictures and paintings of the day. They had the budget for a very cool promo video, so I expected the book’s visual elements to be a little stronger.

The seemingly constant dream sequences got a bit stale. The reader is supposed to know exactly when and how Abe Lincoln dies, so the author felt free to have him die in his own dreams. A lot. There’s a reason writers in this genre avoid this technique: Not because there’s something innately bad about dreams and nightmares in fiction, but because readers get fucking annoyed to have some cool thing turn out to be the author essentially knocking everything down and shouting “LOL JK DUDE!”

The high point of the book is toward the end, when Abe has resigned himself to working with the lesser of two evils. At one point, he has his own cadre of vampiric body guards, and the way the author integrated this with the historic security concerns that Lincoln’s staff had around and during the war worked beautifully. This part of the book was enchanting and made AL:VH worth the purchase price.

The low points are several (not many, but spread around enough to be detracting) – the start is too slow, the ending is predictable and unsatisfying, and the occasional (and unneeded!) changes in POV were, frankly, annoying.

Bottom line:

If you’re a fan of this author’s other mashups, of vampires, or of the Civil War era, this books must-buy. But it does nothing to appeal to other audiences, and perhaps even goes a few steps toward driving them away.

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