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Four Score and Countless Zombies Ago

By dammitjanet | Books | July 2, 2010 |

By dammitjanet | Books | July 2, 2010 |

Seth Grahame-Smith has got a hell of a gig. First he took the dry-as-Emilly-Dickinson’s-cooter chick lit classic Pride and Prejudice and made it readable by adding zombies. Now he has taken arguably America’s greatest President and turned him, his whole life, and the history of our country upside down in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

I love me a good zombie/vampire/psycho fest, so when I heard about this coming out, I was psyched. I waited WEEKS for it to be available in our small-town library. And, for the most part, it was worth the wait.

The book follows the chronology of Honest Abe’s life, starting with his family’s hardscrabble life in Kentucky on the Cumberland Trail. His father Thomas, a rather shiftless sort, decides to uproot his family to Indiana, and that is where the trouble begins. Abe is doted on by his mother, Nancy, who teaches him to read and write and who gives him a leather-bound journal for a gift. This journal, and the many that follow, are the basis for this story. When Abe is 11, he overhears his father and another man arguing outside their cabin. He doesn’t know what they are arguing about, but finds out soon enough. Shortly after the midnight visit from this stranger, Abe’s aunt & uncle nearby fall sick and pass away, suffering from tremendous fevers and hallucinations. His mother nurses them, and not long after their deaths, becomes ill herself. The country doctor diagnoses all of them with “milk sickness.” Nancy, the guiding force in young Abe’s life, dies. Abe is devastated. Not long after, his father, who has taken to drink, tells Abe a story at the fireside about how his own father died, not at the hand of Indians, but was killed by a band of vampires. The man who argued with Thomas was also vampire who Thomas had taken a loan from. When he was unable to repay the debt, the vampire took his revenge out on Nancy.

This propels Abe into a life of vampire hunting. He reads what he can, sharpens his ax and stakes and goes a’huntin. On one mission, a female vampire nearly kills him, but he is saved by another bloodsucker named Henry Sturges. Henry then becomes his teacher and muse, showing him how to properly hunt and kill the undead, and providing him with the names of those who “deserve it sooner.” Nearly everything in Abe’s life from that point on is driven by four things: the loss of his mother and her dying words to him to “live,” his insatiable hatred of vampires, his discovery of how vampires and slaves are connected, and Henry’s influence.

Smith works in the most important people in Abe’s life: Joshua Speed, Ann Rutledge, Stephen Douglas, Mary the loon, John Wilkes Booth, and so on. Some are vampires, some of their deaths are caused by vampires. That Emancipation Proclamation thingy? Yeah, that wasn’t just to end slavery — it all fits in with the vampire storyline.

The early parts of the book are fast-paced and a fun read. However, as Abe ages and witnesses more and more death and destruction wrought, in this case not by cruel luck but by the undead, things take on a slower, more somber pace. The vampire-related events of the later years, including his run for the Presidency and his time in office, start to feel forced. “Oh, hey, and then……yeah, he’s a vampire, too! Let’s have a vampire attack this guy!”

All in all, a good, fairly quick summer read. Not necessarily something you would go back to and re-read, but if you like alternate history or a little vampirey action, it’s worth picking up.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of dammitjanet’s reviews, check out her blog.

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