My return to reading, more or less, starts with a book that kind of goes downhill after the title page.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
The author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies discovers Abraham Lincoln’s private journal, detailing his history as the greatest vampire hunter of the 1800s.
The book was by most accounts a big success, a movie’s already in the works, and nobody expects great literature from a book called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
No-brainer of a can’t-fail concept. Well researched (or at least Wikipediaed) enough to avoid being completely frivolous. Lincoln’s ally Henry Sturges is a fairly compelling character. Character voice and journal entries feel authentic enough. There are a few pretty good action sequences, and some pretty horrifying slavery-as-vampirism sequences. Has the same fortifying-by-proxy effect as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: if reading easily-accessible history is as abhorrent to you as reading Jane Austen is to me, you might get something useful out of the book. Abraham Lincoln killing vampires with an axe is what’s promised on the cover, and there’s plenty of that in the book.
Absolutely no surprises — spoiler warning, John Wilkes Booth is a vampire! — and it takes no risks with the material. Almost all of the vampire-killing stops once Lincoln gets into office, and the book loses most of its punch. The clumsily-Photoshopped period photos don’t add anything, and actually stand out against the attempts at authenticity in the text. So much of the book feels like a novelization of a made-for-TV biopic, as if the author took a list of names and places from a cursory biography of Lincoln and used it as his outline, without making it feel like everything flowed together naturally. (There are occasional exceptions, for instance with Lincoln’s friendship with Joshua Speed, where the author puts a little bit of effort into making Speed feel like a real character).
On the surface, it seems like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is less of the search-and-replace job that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was, but ultimately it’s the exact same concept: take “supposed to be good for you” source material, add internet-meme-inspired action sequences, and cash in from folks like me who’ll buy a book based on the title alone. This isn’t a bad book by any stretch, and it’s got more heft than the goofy title would suggest. But the gimmick is starting to feel more than a little crass, when the book takes a concept and does so little to expand on it. I’m feeling less like I’m in on the joke, riffing with the author on a wacky idea, and more like I’m being sold a T-shirt with an ironic slogan.
Ultimately, the book is too goofy to qualify as “real” literature, but too dry to qualify as action-horror-comedy. There are enough passages in the book — the embellished story of the Roanoake colony, for instance — that are just on the cusp of being interesting on their own merits, that I wish the author would try to write a book from scratch.