Monday, May 31, 2010

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

Okay readers, I know you’ve both been wondering when my second review would come along. I apologize for the delay, but a note from my doctor proves it was for a good reason. And if you’re willing to forgive me I think you’ll find future installments will arrive with more frequency.

Anyway, on to the matter at hand. My latest review is of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” by Seth Grahame-Smith, who came on the scene in 2009 with “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”. The genre-bending “Pride” spearheaded a new sub-genre in which public domain novels like “Pride and Prejudice” are combined with horror and action genre elements like zombies, ninjas, sea monsters, etc. It's an interesting idea, and one that has seemingly resonated with readers.

To say his first novel was a success would be an understatement, but in the interest of full-disclosure I must admit that I have not read it. Jane Austen just isn’t my thing. Sorry. But I do like historical non-fiction, so when I saw “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” staring at me from the shelf at Borders I had to get it. (I actually ended up buying it for my iPhone Kindle app so I could save a few bucks... You know how it is.)

As I understood it from the jacket description, the book was a memoir supposedly written by Abraham Lincoln. I assumed that it was, like “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” before it, a mash-up novel, this time using an actual Lincoln memoir. I could not have been more wrong.

When I started reading I was surprised to find that the story began in modern times. The narrator (who is Grahame-Smith) is the proprietor of a small store in a small town. He is a frustrated novelist who originally took the job at the store intending to write a novel and then move on to fame and fortune, but that dream never materialized and he has become stuck in the rut that is his life.

Enter Henry, a resident of the town that becomes somewhat of a regular at the store. He and the author exchange only pleasantries for a time, but for reasons that are never really explained Henry chooses the author to be the recipient of a collection of journals supposedly written by Abraham Lincoln. What Henry wants is for the author to novelize the contents of these journals and get the word out that not only was Abraham Lincoln one of our greatest presidents, but he was also a vampire killing bad-ass!

From this point on the book becomes what reads like a biography interspersed with passages from the Lincoln memoirs. Some passages are first-person from Lincoln’s perspective, others are third-person. You get used to it after a while, but to be honest I found this format somewhat off-putting. I really think the story would have benefited from the author choosing a perspective and sticking to it for the duration. It may work for others, but for me, I say no thanks.

Anyway, the story moves from a young Abraham watching his mother die as a result of his father’s dealings with a vampire to Lincoln’s ascension to the White House. I could go into detail and tell you about the in-between stuff, but to be honest it was the same basic setup over and over: Abraham getting a letter from the mysterious “H.” telling him of a vampire that “deserves it sooner”, a bit of stalking the intended target, and then the attack on the vampire that may succeed or fail. And between these passages comes a lot of exposition about not wanting to kill vampires any more, falling in love, people in Abraham’s life dying and him or his wife sulking. It really is that simple and it gets old about half way through the book.

I’m guessing Grahame-Smith knew that his story was growing tiresome at about two-thirds of the way through because he chooses at that point to change the game and retire Lincoln from vampire hunting. Yes, you read that right... In a book entitled “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”, the titular character retires from the titular profession and the book becomes about the politics of vapiric involvement in the Civil War. Sounds thrilling, I know. At first the change was welcome, but it wore out it’s welcome very quickly and I actually put the book down for two weeks with about a quarter to go before I made myself finish it.

I’ve read that they are giving this novel the Hollywood treatment, and even though I’ve spent the majority of this review complaining, I think it’ll make a great movie. It will benefit greatly from the inevitable pruning and condensing that takes place when converting a book into a screenplay. As a book it is overly long and boring, but as a film (if the correct adjustments are made) it could be exciting and fun.

I hate to say it, but I don’t recommend this book. I know you’ve already deduced that, but as this is a book review I kind of have to spell it out. It is very uneven and seems to begin as one idea and ends as another. It never returns to the story of Henry and the author/store proprietor, which I found very disappointing, and the ending left a real bad taste in my mouth. I won’t give it away, but let’s just say that it has someone becoming something I don’t believe for a second (within the framework of the story) they would ever allow themselves to be.

In my opinion you’d be best served skipping this book unless you have a hankering to be bored. Wait for the movie to come out and watch it instead. At least then if you don’t like it you’ve only wasted, at most, about two hours of your time.

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That’s it for this week, kiddos. Tune in next time when I review “Divine Misfortune” by A. Lee Martinez. Hopefully I’ll have more positive things to say about it than my last selection.



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