Friday, May 28, 2010

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Seth Grahame-Smith)

Hot damn, have I got a book for you!


Seth Grahame-Smith, co-author of the wildly successful Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, has moved on to more sophisticated fare. He now fancies himself a biographer, and for his first post-Austen work he's decided to tackle Abraham Lincoln. Normally, that would be boring. Countless biographies have already been written on the 16th president, and I'm not sure how they keep finding new information. Grahame-Smith, however, tells the reader EXACTLY how he got his new information: from a vampire friend of the president himself.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter details the secret life of Honest Abe as he wages a silent war on the vampires responsible for the propogation of slavery in the South. Huh? Yup. Through journal entries and historical photographs, AL:VH works vampires into the man's entire life, from his humble log cabin beginnings to his run for the presidency. It's ridiculous. The book reads like a legit biography, but with some vampires thrown in to spice things up a bit.

And oh, is it spicy! Abe was known for his size and backwoods upbringing, and Grahame-Smith uses this to his advantage as he descrives the man's training and conquests on the road to becoming America's foremost vampire hunter. It's difficult to describe how incredible this book is, because the concept is right there on the front cover, but I was genuinely surprised at how well this thing reads. This is a scholarly work of biographical fiction. I can't imagine how much research must have been involved in the writing process. Similarly to P&P&Z, the additions are flawless, seamless, sensational. I admit, I thought that that Seth Grahame-Smith wouldn't be able to handle the pressure of this book, since so much of his earlier effort was the original Austen text, but he really shows himself to be a fantastic writer with this one. Historical figures like William Seward, Stephen Douglas, and Jefferson Davis make appearances which add a depth of flavor to the experience that proves to be invaluable. Great, great book. I absolutely, 100% recommend it to any- and everyone.


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
by Seth Grahame-Smith

This is an incredible piece of fiction, and just like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies before it, I hope this spurns more of the same type of work.

I wish I could be more specific about the reasons why this book is fantastic, but I'm on vacation, and it's been difficult to find the time to post reviews. Just know that Grahame-Smith executes his premise superbly.

This book is easy to read and amazingly suspenseful. Each time Abe went out to slay a vampire, I knew he'd survive, because he still hadn't become president yet. Somehow I was still worried he might not make it out alive. Excellent writing.



Friday, May 21, 2010

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls (Steve Hockensmith)

Almost a full year ago now, I reviewed a little book called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a literary mash-up wherein author Seth Grahame-Smith injected zombies into the Jane Austen classic. I rated it a 9.22, which was the highest rating yet given at the time (it's still #4 on the all-time list). Then, a few months later, a sequel was released—though using a different Austen classic and a different co-author—titled Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Ben H. Winters had the honors of slicing in aquatic abominations this time around, and S&S&SM earned an 8.89, putting it at #8 on the all-time list.

I picked up the most recent installment, Steve Hockensmith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, a few weeks ago, and am excited to have finally found the time to slip it into the rotation.


Dawn of the Dreadfuls is very much what the publisher, Quirk Books, calls a "Quirk Classic." It takes characters from a novel in the public domain and mashes in anachronistic fantasy elements. This "Quirk Classic" differs from its predecessors in one major respect, however. DotD is not taken directly from an existing literary work. Sure, the Bennet family is already well-known via their introduction to the world in the original Pride and Prejudice, but the plot and supporting characters in DotD are all original. The book, a prequel to the Seth Grahame-Smith P&P&Z, follows the Bennets as they witness the outbreak of the zombie plague in the small English village of Meryton. Mr. Bennet, the stoic patriarch of the family, sees the outbreak as an excuse to finally train his five daughters in the "deadly arts," which he himself learned during the very first manifestation of the undead plague several decades before. During the earlier outbreak, what he often refers to as "the Troubles," he studied in the Far East under a Master Liu, and wishes that his daughters would adhere to the same warrior code that rules his own life. Unfortunately, Mrs. Bennet, and most of the neighboring countryside, find it abominable that a woman might think it acceptable to parade about with swords and shuriken slicing the heads off of things. The five Bennet girls are cast out from proper British society and informed that they are no longer welcome to attend the upcoming ball. Well, clearly this is unacceptable, and most of the book tackles the Bennet girls' attempts to train themselves in the ways of zombie self-defense while also maintaining their more genteel and ladylike traits.

Sounds fun, right? And it is. The book is full of zombie ridiculousness, just like it's predecessor. I enjoyed it. There were a few things, though, that I wasn't sure about. The first book has the advantage of being a perfect replica of the original Jane Austen text, except for the addition of the risen dead. Austen was a pretty stellar writer. Her plots and character development, even though dealing with seemingly trivial social matters, are virtually unparalleled. With DotD, Steve Hockensmith had to basically start from scratch. He benefits somewhat from the fact that Seth Grahame-Smith built up a fair amount of backstory in the original P&P&Z, but at times that fact also hurts him. DotD doesn't take place in Japan or China, as I thought it might considering Grahame-Smith's comments regarding the girls' training. It also occurs during a time when the "dreadfuls" are essentially returning after a decades-long absence, not at the true "dawn" of the plague. That's fine, and Hockensmith writes it all very well considering he's completely on his own, it's just not what I was expecting.

I also thought that the plot could have been a little more fully developed. I was disappointed at how much the scenes tended to focus on highly repetitive actions and conversations. It made the writing feel a bit heavy-handed, since most of the revelations towards the end of the book were very obviously set up in advance. Honestly, though, I think most of these problems have to do with the fact that Hockensmith was forced to emulate a style that is not his own, without the benefit of a preexisting text to guide him. Taking that into consideration and looking at the book primarily as a source of ninja-on-zombie action, I have to say that the writer has done an excellent job of keeping this franchise fresh and interesting for Quirk. I would still really like to see something written about the original zombie outbreak from Mr. Bennet's youth, and either his or the girls' time spent studying in Asia, but I can only judge this book on what it is, not what I wish it were. And despite the issues that I had with the book, the truth is I didn't want to put it down. Mr. Bennet plays a much larger role in this book than the original, which I loved. His wife is still annoying as hell, and I really enjoy his sarcastic remarks when dealing with her. It was also good to see the girls' personalities developing towards what they ultimately become in Grahame-Smith's book. It's difficult to write convincing prequels—just ask George Lucas—and even more difficult to write them when you weren't the original author. Steve Hockensmith deserves credit for a job well done, even if the book might not have been as strong as its progenitor.


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls
by Steve Hockensmith

I can't really give the man credit for someone else's idea, but I can give him credit for his original supporting characters, most of which I found to be hilarious. Also, sometimes it's fun knowing characters are almost definitely going to die (since they only exist in the prequel).

The score would've been much higher here except originality really kicked its ass. Hockensmith was working in a highly restricted space. While I think he managed extremely well given the circumstances, the story did feel a little boxed in at times.

Regardless of anything else, you will have fun with this book. It's not a masterpiece, it's not something that scholars will still be discussing centuries from now, but in the grand scheme of things, who cares? If you read this book, you will have a good time. I think that should count for a lot.


Keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, May 14, 2010


Hi there folks!

I regret to inform you that there is not going to be a book review today, because today is GRADUATION DAY!!!!! That's right, today I am a master! Well, master of professional writing at least. Commencement takes place on the University of Southern California's downtown campus bright and early at 8:30 am. Hopefully I won't trip over my robes or anything. Wish me luck!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Agaat (Marlene van Neikerk)

A novel. I picked it up at AWP. It just came out.


Milla is a white South African landowner, newly married, eager to prove that she can run a farm without her mother and in spite of her dandy of a husband. In an attempt to bring some semblance of order to her household, Milla brings on a young black girl named Agaat to act as her chief maidservant. Milla's husband, Jak, hates Agaat and the amount of responsibility Milla entrusts to the girl, but once their son, Jakkie, is born, Agaat proves to be invaluable. Agaat follows the story of Milla and Agaat's relationship over the decades as the two women move between periods of open disdain and quiet admiration for each other.

That doesn't sound like much. When I read the back cover, I wasn't expecting to be blown away at all. Much of the story takes place in the 1990s when Milla is suffering from near-complete paralysis. With Jak dead and Jakkie living abroad, Agaat is forced to take care of her. Through flashbacks and diary entries, the reader slowly discovers that the relationship between the two women was not always so smooth, though it may have always been as symbiotic. Each chapter is broken into four parts, each with their own unique structure and narrative style. There's the first-person inner monologue of Milla as she lies in bed, completely paralyzed, thinking about her life while Agaat tends to her; there's the second-person storytelling section where Milla talks to the woman she used to be; there's the heavily stylized diary entries written by Milla in her youth; and finally there is a psuedo-poetic portion of each chapter that doesn't always make sense, but gives the reader a strong sense of that chapter's emotional tone. It's really heavy stuff.

No, I mean it, it's really, really, really heavy stuff. This is one of the densest, most descriptive books I've ever read. It's gorgeous, don't get me wrong, but this book took me absolutely forever to read. This isn't one of those nice, "you might want to free up your weekend" books. This is one of those nice, "you might want to free up your SUMMER" books. I have to say, though, I usually hate those dense, super-descriptive books because nothing happens, it's all flowery detail. That's not the case here. Shit happens, constantly. Marlene van Neikerk makes a woman lying in a bed staring at the wall interesting. That's the kind of thing that you would normally say hyperbolically if you really enjoy someone's writing. "Oh, they could make a woman lying in a bed staring at the wall interesting." Sorta like when people say "he could be funny reading the phone book." No, I'm not being hyperbolic: THE WOMAN IS LYING IN HER BED STARING AT THE WALL AND IT IS SO COMPELLING! Seriously, so, so compelling. In the very first chapter, Milla confesses to the reader that she's trying to signal something to Agaat, that she wants Agaat to find one of her old maps and put it up on the wall for her to see. The only problem is that Milla has lost all physical control of her body, and has to signal to Agaat with her eyes. Instant conflict. You can be damn sure that from then on I was dying to find out if Milla was ever going to be able to convey her message to Agaat. That's fantastic writing right there.


by Marlene van Neikerk

I'm a plot guy. I want to see my characters looking for someone, striving for something, or racing against time. There's none of that here. It's a woman and her servant. And it's incredible.

This chick knows her shit.

I had fun, and I wanted to keep reading, and I wanted to know everything about these people, but the book takes forever to get through. Points off for being a book of 600 pages that felt like a book of 2,000 pages.


Keep reading, Genoshans!

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