Vampires in my Civil War? It’s more likely than you think! (Not really.)

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Vampires in my Civil War? It’s more likely than you think! (Not really.)

Abraham Lincoln towers over American history- at over six feet tall, quite literally. Tales of his mighty arm, rough-hewn eloquence, and political skill are conveyed by industrious schoolteachers and historians across the United States. Inspired by his victorious leadership in the American Civil War, the internet’s foremost tacticians have concluded that, much like Batman with prep time, Abraham Lincoln could destroy any challenger, no matter how fearsome.

Tragically, Lincoln’s campaign to drive malevolent vampires from North America remained undocumented- until now, with the release of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

This book by Pride and Prejudice and Zombies author Seth Grahame-Smith actually exists. I have to make that clear immediately, lest the reader think it a product of an acid trip. Written in a pseudo-biographical style, it charts the course of our illustrious President’s secret battle with the creatures of the night throughout his life, from his youthful hunting days to the protracted military and political campaign against would-be vampiric ubermensch during the American Civil War.

Like the Zombie Survival Guide, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter‘s premise is silly enough that the main humor comes from its serious, matter-of-fact tone. It certainly isn’t subtle by any means, but it doesn’t need or want to be. The story reads like a historical biography- just one that happened to take place in the Realm of Badass. Abraham Lincoln usually remains fundamentally Abraham Lincoln, despite his secret campaign with axe and oratory against the undead. Though his youthful experiences in particular have more than a hint of melodrama they refrain from Kill Bill-style madcap slaughter, and the use of standard-issue heroic banter is kept to a blessed minimum.

This really exists. I’m not kidding.

The book creatively and respectfully intertwines real-world American history and culture with a pragmatic, even minimalist vampire mythos. Grahame-Smith’s vampires have no idea where they come from, no common hierarchy of bloodline, and are devout American patriots since it represents a sanctuary from European hunters. The book’s villainous vampires throw their lot in with Southern slave-owners because the system of slavery forms a legal apparatus for their predation on human beings, but the horror of slavery as an institution in its own right remains undiminished. The book averts another cliché by making its vampires a nuanced, divided population with divisions paralleling the North-South conflict; some of Abraham’s backers and allies are sympathetic vampires themselves.

While the early segments of Abraham’s life are entertaining in a schlocky, action-packed fashion, the book really hits its creative stride around the midpoint where it begins to explore life for its Lincoln beyond the axe. The real-life Lincoln’s chronic melancholy, abiding love for his family, and personal ambitions are given ample screen time, and his battle against the undead becomes only another part- if an important one- of his political career. The idea of a Civil War fought by vampire troops on both sides is entertainingly absurd. And much like the rest of the book, Grahame-Smith simultaneously transforms Lincoln’s assassination and death in ways appropriate to his new history while preserving the spirit and detail of the man himself.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is by no means a perfect book, but it’s a fun read. It’s not every writer that can blend history and fantasy together in a convincing fashion, much less such a beloved and studied figure as Lincoln himself. But Grahame-Smith’s surprisingly plausible alternate history is very much a tale of Lincoln and the Civil War, preserving the tragic-heroic spirit of the time amidst its flights of fancy.