Sunday, June 26, 2011

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire HunterAbraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fiendishly clever read!

This novel, by the author of the mother of all mash-up novels, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies", really takes history for a gothic spin with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

With surpisingly meticulous care for historical detail, Mr. Grahame-Smith has presented a biographical portrait of Abraham Lincoln, sometimes in his own words, that reads almost like a highschool history textbook. In many ways it's a book report on one of America's most beloved presidents told through an all night cram session laced with too much junk food, energy drinks, and with a particularly bloody Hammer Films production screaming in the background.

Abraham Lincoln the character, comes out every much as honest, and hard working as the Abe Lincoln we know and love, the novel tracing his life through childhood (when he loses his mother to a vampire) and to that tragic night at Fords Theater (where there are also vampires.) Any Lincoln enthusiast will find a lot to snicker about seeing familiar faces, and places turned upside down and ripped at the seams with a gothic rewrite. Any horror fan will be thoroughly satiated by the buckets of blood and limbs that splatter and roll across the pages. (Well we can't let Mr. Lincoln's famous axe-wielding prowess go to waste now can we?)

The vampires in this novel are not the romantic, dazzling, self hating boy toys that have become the trend these days, but are the narcissistic, cruel, black eyed blood-suckers of the sort Christoper Lee made famous. They are creatures we root to see hunted down and slain.

It is quite easy to get caught up in the blood hunt in this novel as well. For the backdrop is the slave-holding South of pre-Civil War America, an America where vampires rule the Antebellum plantations and farm slaves as cattle. There are moments of cruelty against slaves so shocking that it pours salt in the wound of America's history, hammering into the casual reader who would rather not think deeply about that time just how repugnant and unforgivable a crime slavery was.

And that's what really makes this novel rock. The politics and events leading up to the civil war, from the effete slave owners who rationalize the dehumanizing of an entire race, to the South Carolina congressman who beat his abolitionist rival near to death as congress was coming to session, are clearly laid out. The frustrations of the war, a loss at Bull Run, McClellan's unwillingness to move, are not glossed over, and the addition of an army of vampire Confederates perhaps makes us understand a little the fear actual Union soldiers felt upon hearing the Rebel Yell.

I also enjoyed Grahame-Smith's sensitive portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln. Too often Mary is treated as a clownish stereotype, something to be pitied and despised just as Edward Stanton did when he pulled her from the body of her dying husband. Here she is portrayed as the clever, vivacious young girl that first caught Abraham Lincoln's eye, and her descent into crippling depression is shown with surprising tenderness.

Apparently the movie rights for this book have been sold, a film to be produces by Tim Burton. It certainly is a story ripe for the big screen, and as long as Johnny Depp is not cast as Lincoln (all apologies to Mr. Depp who is brilliant), I think this could turn out quite good. In the meantime, don't hesitate to get your hands on this book, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I!

View all my reviews

Monday, June 13, 2011

Driftless by David Rhodes

DriftlessDriftless by David Rhodes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel is really a collection of short stories about a group of people living in a rural Wisconsin town called "Words". One of the major characters, and to me, one of the most likeable, is a farmer named July Montgomery who lives a lonely life after tragedy took his wife from him, but he fills that gap by becoming something of a touchstone to his neighbors. Apparently, this character has appeared in the author's previous books, written decades ago, quite acclaimed and, I'm afraid I haven't read those.

The backdrop of this book is a dying town, it is the Wisconsin weather--sulky summer heat or bitter blizzards, it is the idea of nature awakening, ready to take back the land from the inhabitants, a lone mountain lion prowling the area. The story begins slowly enough, a sighting of the mountain lion, the humdrum existances of a woman pastor, spinster sisters living as caregiver and cripple, married farmers who are living stale on their dairy farm, an alcoholic singer yearning for someone to notice her music.

In fact, the book began so slowly that I couldn't stop yawning. I had that weird feeling I sometimes get when watching a very well done independant film, kind of bored but also still wondering where these characters are going to end up. The dialogue got a bit stilted and clunky at times, the prose could overflow excessively in describing a moment, fervantly hammering at you that a character was FEELING something and we all had to FEEL it with them. At moments like those I felt as if someone was talking louder and louder in my face in an effort to get me to understand their foreign tongue.

The characters, however, unfolded quite nicely, blossoming with their own stories that were quite far-fetched at times, stretching all sorts of believability and bringing a sense of magic and miracle to a dusty old piece of Americana. Some characters experience magical solutions to their problems, fall into a nest of new ones, and other characters suffer tragedy or misfortune. There are clashes with big corporations, militia groups, there are dogfights, miracles, children in danger, family secrets, all events that intertwine the characters around each other, creating a fraying rope to dangle in the center of Words, Wisconsin.

I did thoroughly enjoy this novel by the end of it and was glad that I was patient enough to stick with it. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to cut their teeth in it.

View all my reviews