Monday, May 28, 2012

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

Abraham Lincoln, statesman, orator, president of the United States, leader of the Union during the Civil Warm, the man whose Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the US and a vampire slayer.

Being left the journals of Lincoln, a young aspiring writer is given the mammoth task of chronicling Abraham Lincoln’s life. His entire life – and that included hunting vampires almost from childhood after his mother fell beneath the fangs of one. Since then he has trained hard and fought desperately against vampires across the US. At every stage of his history – from his youth in Kentucky through to Washington DC, vampire slaying was always a part of his life

But Vampire slaying was more than just a part of his life. Vampire slaying is one of the prime motivations of his existence – to fight and destroy all vampires in the US, firstly out of revenge for his mother’s death. But, as he learns more about them and their schemes, eventually it becomes a battle to save all of the United States from falling under their brutal control. It’s a fight that causes him to pursue the presidency. Ultimately, it’s a battle that leads him and the whole nation to war.

Stylistically, I’m not fond of this book. It is written as if by a modern author adapting and transcribing Abraham Lincoln’s journals with many direct excerpts. This means the book often switches from 3rd to first person and we sometimes switch actors as well. It wasn’t hard to follow but it wasn’t a style I enjoyed nor do I think it made it easier to read.

Ultimately, I think this story rests on gimmickery. This isn’t just a 19th century vampire hunter, it’s Abraham Lincoln. I think I miss part of the power of that simply because I’m English. Abraham Lincoln isn’t a major figure in my history or my culture – nor are the events and times described. It doesn’t have the same impact for me. It also means as we follow most of this book – following his life, his childhood, his family, his relationships, his children, the places he lived and the jobs he worked – well, to me they’re not all that interesting or fascinating. Maybe if, culturally, he was a more major figure to me it would be more compelling. As it is, I was rather bored, I didn’t find it fascinating or even particularly interesting. I won’t say it was awful – and I’ve certainly read worse, but it was never more than mildly amusing to me.

I didn’t find the plot – a man hunting and killing vampires which are evil monsters – to be especially fascinating. It’s not original, it’s nothing special. I won’t say it’s boring – and I found the action parts of the book to be great fun and really well written – well paced and perfectly described without so much that it feels bogged down yet not so sparse that we can’t follow the action.

I think this is a book that’s going to be very dependent on taste and whether the insertion of a historical figure into fantastic story is something you find appealing. Personally, it’s not exactly to my taste

Ok, now to the biggie that I cannot ignore and knew was coming from the moment I opened the book. Appropriation. There was no way a fictionalised book with Abraham Lincoln as the core character wasn’t going to involve some appropriation but oooooh it was a doozey. It was one of those books I went into faintly cringing knowing it was coming and I was still bowled over when it actually happened.

In this book, while Abraham Lincoln is morally opposed to slavery and thinks it’s wrong in its own right, he also thinks it’s wrong because Vampires like it. The vampires like having an enslaved race of disposable people for easy and quick snacking. Which is why slavery exists. Yes, really – we’re not talking some vampires taking advantage of slavery for feeding. The very institution of slavery in the US is created by vampires supported by vampires and controlled by vampires. It lasts as long as it does because it’s pushed and supported by vampires. Southern politicians and even pro-slavery politicians in the north support slavery because of vampire money and vampire influence and vampire threats. Jefferson Davis is a vampire pawn. John Wilkes Booth is a vampire.

The link I’ve posted says a lot of why this is problematic and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more gross an example of appropriation as this one. This puts the blame for one of the world’s greatest evils onto the shoulders of supernatural beings. It’s not the fault of humans, it’s not humans committing this gross evil, it’s not humans doing this truly evil and inexcusable thing – it’s the vampires. The civil war happened because of the vampires. The secession happened because of the vampires. The Emancipation Proclamation was to encourage black people to rise up against the vampires.

The actual history of this horrendous time is being buried under a ream of fantasy. It ignores the perfectly human evil with the perfectly human perpetrators. You don’t need supernatural influence for severe human evil. I don’t need to say more because clicking that link will cover everything that is wrong because this is such a text book appropriation.

And in the closing pages of the book it also throws in a quick blaming of the Second World War on vampires as well. Just for that extra dollop

All in all it’s a moderate book. I won’t say the story is original or vastly different from many other hunter books though it does have the gimmick of being Abraham Lincoln, a very well know historical figure and to fully integrate this fictional vampire hunting into his actual life. It’s interesting to see it all woven together and seamlessly form a whole – the fact with the fiction, the recorded history with the mythical story.

And the action and story itself is amusing and well paced – it’s decently written albeit not in a style I prefer. But there is that great big appropriation issue that we can’t ignore and can’t look past. All in all, it’s probably worth borrowing but I wouldn’t buy it.