Genre: adult supernatural
Secondary genre: historical
Format read: audiobook
Content warnings: violence, sexism, racism
In this twisted historical, Grahame-Smith re-imagines history with one slight change: vampires. Vampires are the power behind the politics that run pre-Civil War America, and when Abe Lincoln, then only a child, discovers their dark secrets, he dedicates his life to hunting them down and destroying them after they kill his mother, and later, his fiance.
Beginning as an itinerant vampire hunter, wandering the Mississippi River Valley, Abe is somewhat aimless until he meets the mysterious Henry, a vampire who takes him under his wing…to teach him how to hunt vampires.
Disgusted with the way his kind treats humanity, Henry feeds Abe information on where to find the most dangerous vampires, and the best way of dispatching them.
As the tensions between North and South begin to rise, however, Abe realizes that his best bet for defeating Vampires, and the slavery that supports them, is from within America’s political system.
At first I was super excited for this book. Vampires! Civil War! Lincoln! All of my favorite things, wrapped up into one great audiobook.
Alas, for me, it did not live up to expectations. The story is bookended by bits set during modern day, in which Henry delivers Lincoln’s journals to a writer for apparently no real reason. The story itself is the “biography” the author writes based on these notes, and it reads like it–like a very dry, very boring biography. The action scenes were dull, and even the deaths of Lincoln’s first girlfriend and his sons were barely a blip. The author completely missed the emotional beats of the story.
In addition, it’s rife with passive racism and sexism. I don’t think any of the women in Lincoln’s life had more than a single line of dialogue. I don’t know about you, but I can’t fathom Mary Todd Lincoln keeping her mouth shut for more than five minutes, let alone 200+ pages.
But the part that really got me was the fact that Grahame-Smith completely cut Kate Warne from the Baltimore Plot. Not only was she the one who uncovered it, but she was the one who came up with a way to save Lincoln’s life. She was with him the entire time. Additionally, she would have made an excellent fellow vampire hunter.
There’s been a lot of debate over the years about Lincoln’s position on race. While he was an abolitionist, he wasn’t as forceful about it as many of our history books would lead us to believe. He supported freeing slaves and sending them back to Africa, rather than allowing them to be free in America.
Somehow, though, the author manages to make Lincoln both more racist and a stronger abolitionist. He looks on slaves as inferior humans who are fit for little else, but at the same time calls slavery a stain on humanity, primarily because slave auctions are essentially the 1850s version of fast food for vampires. He seems to think of slavery as a necessary evil, however, until Henry reveals the vampire plot to enslave whites, as well. This is what prompts him to present the emancipation proclamation, not any sort of empathy or egalitarian leanings.
All in all, I was hugely disappointed in this book. I kept reading in the hopes it would get better, but I think I just wasted 10 hours of my life instead.