I approached this novel with some expectations but zero knowledge of it. With a name like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, expectations just spontaneously form. That is the mark of a good title. However, had my situation been reversed with some knowledge and zero expectations, I wouldn’t have picked up the book. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter really is a good title.
Here is what I wrongfully expected based on the book’s title and the commercial for the movie adaptation of the same name: a fun and silly action story. Vampires have invaded our pop culture to such an extreme point that the thought of the 16th president killing them seemed like some sort of logical conclusion to our current explosion of uncreative monster lore. “Fine. If you all want vampires in everything, you can have them in everything” is the message of this book’s title.
It’s a shame that the title’s message isn’t the actual message of the book.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’s biggest flaw is that it takes itself seriously. This novel doesn’t pose the question of our 16th president killing vampires as a silly example of how vampires have become a stale pop culture phenomenon; instead, it poses a serious statement and becomes another part of this stale pop culture phenomenon.
The entire book falls completely flat.
The novel opens up in an autobiographical first-person perspective of Seth Grahame. Seth, as himself, spends the prologue telling us about how his life was in a rut and he is stuck working retail (the fear of all writers and liberal arts majors). Then one day, a customer comes in and starts talking to Seth about writing and a certain project that needs completing. A hop, skip, and a jump later and Seth is receiving 12 journals from a vampire who wants them composed into a story.
It’s really a shame that the novel doesn’t continue on in the vein of a down-on-his-luck writer writing for a supernatural creature, as that’s actually an interesting premise for a novel. There’s an inherent danger there that is sorely lacking in the finished product.
The novel aims itself to be a true autobiography, so it starts off with Abe’s early childhood and slowly works its way up from there. Some of the information about Abe’s early family is interesting, but since the entire novel is historical fiction, it’s hard to know what is actual fact and what is altered fact to create a new narrative for an old character.
Seth’s arsenal consists of presumed historical documents and the fake journals he is given in the prologue. This poses a few problems. The first problem is he continuously switches between a third person past perspective, narrating Lincoln’s life as if the novel were a text book, and first person past, quoting narration from Lincoln’s journals. The switches between perspectives can be rather jarring as much of the quoted narration is lengthy; just as you get used to one perspective, it changes.
The second problem is the amount of quoted and paraphrased text from Abe’s fake journals. There’s simply so much information and detail that it’s unbelievable someone would keep such dramatic and excessive records. There are passages that come off as funny instead of dramatic or tense simply because of how much information is being quoted. It’s almost as if Abe kept such scrupulous notes so a future author could write a more accurate book about his secret life.
The third problem is an informative one. There are plenty of areas where Seth is quoting from Lincoln’s journals, but when he isn’t quoting or paraphrasing from his historical texts, where is the extra information coming from? Seth mentions interviewing vampires in the prologue, but they wouldn’t be able to provide all of the extreme detail within the novel.
The fourth and final problem involves the action. When the action is extremely detailed, it comes off as silly because no one would keep such play-by-play details in a journal. When the action isn’t detailed, it’s mostly plain, factual, and boring.
It’s a shame that framing and tone aren’t the only issues with this novel. Abe Lincoln himself isn’t a very enjoyable character. In the first half, he’s angry at the world and wants to destroy every vampire he can. He doesn’t seem to care that they aren’t all the same (as his future vampire buddy will tell him), and he goes off and axes whomever he wishes, always making sure to use a word like “destroy.” He’s extremely unlikeable, only seeing the world in black and white. He begrudgingly teams up with Henry who acts as a sort of mafia lord, giving Abe vampire hits that need disposing. Abe never questions Henry’s motives or reasons and goes about his slaughter with a resigned glee. It’s frustrating to see a character painted as smart and clever never stopping to ask himself “why?” This winds up being extremely ironic as Abe detests slavery and racism, but has no qualms about painting every vampire with the same “evil” brush.
And then there is the problem of history. We know how Abraham Lincoln died and when he died, so that takes a great deal of tension out of the novel. He gets into a jam, but we know he will survive from the outset. Had this been a humorous novel, there wouldn’t be any problems, but since this is played as “this is factual” the book becomes boring.
Three points in the novel, Abe is struck with some nightmares that are played off as actually happening until he wakes up. These points end up being pretty great until the punch line of “and then Abe woke up” hits. These few points of actual tension and mystery never happen at all, and they wind up feeling like mean-spirited teasing more than anything. The book wants to deliver and fill those expectations the title causes, but it simply cannot.
Around the halfway mark, Abe stops killing vampires and starts with politics. The last fourth of the book wind up being pretty boring because of this. Vampires are sprinkled in when appropriate of course, but it all comes off as plain stupid and forced. What few plot twists remain are predictable and induce heavy sighs.
The one real praise I can give this book is this: the language is handled very well. Abe writes like how Abe should write, and everyone talks in what is to be expected of that time period. Seth really did do his research in this department.
It’s a shame everything else falls apart.
I really wanted to like this book, but the way the subject is treated and the way the book is written just ruined its potential.