Category Archives: vampires

Books about or featuring vampires.

Review 99: Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

History is like an exquisite jewel. It has many facets, and it will glitter differently depending on the point of view of the person looking at it. We see it change as we shift, as we shine the light differently upon it, but for the most part, we confine ourselves to a few simple views of history and convince ourselves that what we see is the truth of what the gem is.

But what happens when we remove the jewel from its setting and look at the faces we have never before seen? In that case, a whole new history may emerge, one that we find difficult to understand or even believe.

Take Abraham Lincoln, for example. We all think we know who he was: a hard-working, honest young man who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, became President, saved the Union, and was assassinated for his troubles. Perhaps no other President in American history has been as carefully scrutinized and examined as Lincoln. You would think we had nothing left to learn about him.

You would be wrong.

You don’t know about the vampires.

From the early days of the United States, the vampires have been there. They were there when the first ships pulled into Virginia, when the nation won its independence from Britain, and when the nation went west. They had their hands in the growth of the nation from day one, playing a long-term game to build a vampire paradise far from Europe, where the people there were wise to their evil and knew how to destroy them. Vampires were something that had always been talked about in the early days of American settlement. Strange tales of people dying mysteriously, sometimes their faces locked in a grim visage of fear. But no one really believed them of course. I mean really – vampires? Please.

The truth was, however, that they were out there. They were lurking in the shadows, waiting and planning and laying the groundwork for the land they would eventually come to rule.And from his youth, Abraham Lincoln was pulled into their nefarious scheme.

Born the son of Thomas and Nancy Lincoln, Abraham suffered from his share of the vicissitudes of 19th-century life. Rural poverty was rampant, and his father was not the most skilled of laborers or diligent of workers. But he loved his children, as did his wife. That made it all the harder when those children started dying of a strange wasting disease. When his wife followed suit, it was tragedy upon tragedy. For Abraham, it was the beginning of a need for vengeance that would drive his entire life.

As he grew up and discovered the existence of vampires, he became a skilled and terrifying vampire hunter. He was so good at his vocation that a dissident group of vampires, led by a man named Henry Sturges, chose him as their instrument against their own kind. With Henry’s guidance, Lincoln began to cut a swathe through the vampires in the United States.

But being the chosen one, as Buffy would attest, is not all it is cracked up to be. Plagued with doubts and depression, Lincoln tried many times to cast off the mantle that had been thrust upon him. He married, went into business, and did his best to live the normal life he thought he deserved. But destiny had other plans. The vampires were preparing their endgame – the establishment of a nation built on the backs of slaves, where humans would be cattle to the vampires. In time, they would take the United States and use it as a staging ground to spread their sickness around the world. They had to be stopped, and Henry and his fifth column knew only one man who could stop them.

Abraham Lincoln, the greatest vampire hunter the nation had ever known.

Written by the same author who did Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this book was far more entertaining. Probably because I like Lincoln a whole lot more than I like Jane Austen, but probably because he did a much better job at integrating the Lincoln we know with the Lincoln he had created. He invents a vampire-system that would explain how they could manage to maintain influence over humans, and presents a reasonably plausible explanation for how vampires could be at the root of the Civil War.

More importantly, he keeps his Lincoln true to the character of the real Lincoln – a complex, driven man, beset by tragedy, lifted by hope, and motivated by a duty to a greater good. Perhaps a bit romanticized, of course, but we all romanticize Lincoln. It’s hard not to. What’s important is that we see a character who tries to fight his destiny, but in the end realizes that there are bigger things at stake than his own happiness. He has a nation to save and evil to defeat, and even if it should cost him his life, he will see that evil eradicated.

The only thing that bothered me was a bit of unfinished business in the book. The conceit of it was that Seth Grahame-Smith had been given the complete set of Lincoln Diaries – the real ones, mind you – by Sturges, so that he could tell the true tale. According to the introduction, this was a project that cost him his job, his marriage, and nearly his life, and after a fairly dramatic and mysterious introduction, we never hear anything from Smith as the author again. I would have liked for him to have explained some of the things he merely alluded to in the introduction – especially the eleven “individuals” he was instructed to talk to over the course of writing the book, but he didn’t. It’s a little detail, but one I wish he had taken care of.

It’s a fun read, good for any vampire/Lincoln lover, or aficionado of alternate history.

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“I can see a man’s purpose, Abraham. It is my gift. I can see it as clearly as I see you standing before me now. Your purpose is to fight tyranny… and mine is to see that you win.”
– Henry Sturges

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter at Wikipedia
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Review 76: Changes


Changes by Jim Butcher

“Hell’s Bells” count: 20

Well, the title promises changes, and that is certainly what you get in this book. And the first of these comes right on page one: Harry Dresden has a daughter. Surprised? Yeah, well so was he.

The mother is Harry’s old lover, Susan Rodriguez, whom he hasn’t seen in many years. The reason for their separation is pretty simple, the kind of story you’ve heard over and over again – boy and girl meet, avoid their obvious attraction to each other for a while, and finally hook up. Boy tells girl all about the world of supernatural horrors in which he lives, girl finds it more intriguing than horrible, and manages to get herself bitten by vampires. Girl is able to resist turning all the way, but knows that she can’t be around boy lest her emotions overwhelm her and she devours him whole. Boy and girl have one last night of fun together, girl vanishes into South America to join an underground cabal of vampire hunters.

Boilerplate, really.

No sooner does Harry discover that he has a daughter that she finds out she’s been kidnapped, taken as a hostage by the Red Court of vampires for some purpose that is no doubt terrible and nefarious. As much as Susan knows it will hurt Harry to find out she’d been hiding their daughter from him, she also knows that he is the only one with the power and the resources available to get her back.

After all, Harry is a Wizard, a member of the White Council, if not one of their favorite members. He has contacts within the council that could prove useful, as well as resources that reach from Heaven to Hell. A far cry from the lone wolf that we met way back in Storm Front, Harry now has connections and resources that will allow him to take on some of the most powerful beings in the world as they attempt to use his daughter for their own evil ends.

As the title implies, of course, Harry does have to make some very serious choices in this quest; choices about how far he’s willing to go in order to save his daughter, to say nothing of whether saving his daughter is even the right choice to make in itself. After all, the Red Court has been at war with the White Council for some time now, and the slightest mistake one way or the other could just make the whole thing worse. The last thing the White Council wants is their least favorite loose cannon (and, not for nothing, the guy who got the whole war started in the first place) complicating matters unnecessarily. The supernatural world is pretty much ready to fly apart as it is, and one mis-step could mean death and destruction on a scale greater than anyone has ever known.

In the end, the choices that Harry has to make in this book will haunt him for the rest of his life, if not longer. I would probably not be wrong in saying that this book marks a major turning point for the series.

If you’ve been reading this from the beginning, which you really should have, then this is going to be a rough book. I’ve made mention before of how Butcher likes to play hardball with his characters sometimes, but this book is so much more than that. This book is an all-out attack on everything that Harry holds dear to him, a scouring of his life that puts him into an entirely new situation. What this is in preparation for is anybody’s guess, but I can tell you this much without really spoiling anything – Butcher had better damn well have the next book on a fast track or he’ll find me sitting on his front porch with a torch and a pitchfork and a haunted look in my eyes. [1]

Given that, as of this writing, the book has just come out, there’s not a lot I can say about it in detail. If you’ve been following the series, you’re going to read it no matter what I have to say, and I don’t want to ruin anything for you. All I can really say is that this isn’t my favorite of the series, at least not upon first reading. It’s a little rushed in parts, and has one too many deus ex machina moments for my liking. The only thing that mitigates that is the knowledge that Butcher wastes nothing in his storytelling, and even the biggest miracles come with a price that will have to be paid. And I expect that the payoff will be something to see. Having said that, though, Changes will probably hold up as one of the most significant of the Dresden Files books once the series is done. In terms of what happens to the characters in this book, it’s really like nothing else that’s come before it.

So brace yourselves, kids. This one’s a bumpy ride. As with all the Dresden Files books, though, it’s well worth it.

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“Harry… I’ve got a bad feeling that…. I’ve got a bad feeling that the wheels are about to come off.”
– Karrin Murphy, Changes
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[1] Yes, yes, I know that, to paraphrase Neil Gaiman, the author is not my bitch. Still and all, waiting for the next book to come out will be like trying not to fart in church – interminable, impossible not to think about, and oh so relieving when the opportunity finally arrives.

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Review 51: Blood Rites


Blood Rites by Jim Butcher

“Hell’s Bells” count: 19 [1]

As far as I know, The Dresden Files is an open-ended series that Butcher will continue to write until he decides to end it, which is fine with me. He’s set up a universe that has endless possibilities to it, from simple mysteries to humorous romps to soul-searing betrayal and heartache. Can’t go wrong with all that, and if Butcher wants to just keep putting out Dresden books every eighteen months or so, I’ll happily keep buying them.

One of the dangers of such a plan, however, is stagnation – you end up rehashing similar plot points, perhaps throwing in a few twists and turns, but never really advancing the plot because, well, you don’t know where the plot is going. I can imagine Butcher would get to a point where he thinks, “Ummm… Okay, Harry Dresden fights vampire werewolves…. from the future!” At which point, the shark has been well and truly jumped. As I’ve said before, I would much rather see a series end well than see it go on beyond its useful life and leave me with sad, sad memories. I’m looking at you, X-Files.

While I don’t know if Butcher knows exactly where the series will finally end (though he probably does), he does manage to avoid stagnation very nicely, mainly by putting Harry in mortal danger. Okay, that’s nothing new, but this time it’s Mortal Danger with bonus Crippling Injury! And a side order of Serious Disillusion to boot. This book really stirs things up for the world of Harry Dresden and lets the readers know that there is far, far more in store for us than we knew. So bravo to you, Jim.

In this volume, Dresden is asked by his kind-of-sort-of friend Thomas to do a favor for him. Despite being a vampire of the White Court and a soul-sucking incubus, Thomas is an okay kind of guy and has helped Harry out of a few tight spots in their time. He can’t say he trusts Thomas, but he likes him. And therefore we like him as well. The job sounds simple: a movie producer has been having weird accidents happen to people linked with his movie, and two women have already died mysterious deaths. Harry’s job would be to figure out who’s putting the bad mojo on the movie studio and stop it.

The fact that it’s an adult movie studio is not brought up until later.

In the process of trying to help out with an astoundingly powerful (and regular) Evil Eye curse, Harry runs afoul of the Black Court vampires in a side plot that really has nothing to do with the main one. This seems unusual, since most of the Dresden books that have featured multiple cases do so in the spirit of Raymond Chandler, where we find out that they were all part of the same case after all.

The B plot in this book is an attempt to put down Mavra, a truly terrifying member of the Black Court of vampires. The Black Court is the type of vampire we all think of when the word comes up – the Nosferatu, the Dracula, all black and dry and horrible. They’re also the toughest, most resilient and most vicious of the vampire clans. What’s more, Mavra is an accomplished sorceress, whose power makes even Harry Dresden think twice about crossing her. Which is why he has a Plan this time. And we all know about Harry and his Plans….

All of this, though is incidental to the things he learns in this book, both about himself and the people he trusts. Those are the things that truly shake up his world and which will shape the books that are to follow. This book is a turning point for Dresden, and not a good one. While the Black Court plot, for example, didn’t have much to do with the main plot, it sets up very important elements and concepts that are deftly exploited in later books. And Harry’s always-fragile relationship with the White Council endures what could be a crippling blow.

All this is setting up the next few books and laying the groundwork for the rest of the series. One of the things I’ve come to admire about Butcher’s writing is that nothing is wasted. I once heard that the process of writing a story is like packing for someone else’s hiking trip – you only want to put into the bag what you think that person will absolutely need. After all, if they get to the end of their hiking trip and they haven’t used that ten-pound bag of rice you thought might come in handy, they’re going to be very pissed off at you.

Butcher doesn’t do that. You can be sure that the elements he lays out in his stories will be used, sooner or later., and you’ll never be left wondering, “But what was that scene with the baseball player and the chicken farm about?” If Butcher puts a baseball player and a chicken farm into his book, there’s a very good reason for it, and you’ll find out eventually.

As with the other books in The Dresden Files series, this is great fun to read. Which makes it no surprise that the series had some measure of success outside its original format – a TV series and a comic, at last count. I look forward to following it as it goes on.

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“No matter how screwed up things are, they can get a whole lot worse.”
– Harry Dresden, Blood Rites
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[1] One of these was the maxi-expletive “Hell’s holy stars and freaking stones shit bells,” which I must commit to memory

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Review 37: Dresden Files 03 – Grave Peril

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

“Hell’s Bells” count: 26

If you’re reading this series in sequence (which you absolutely should be, or things will stop making sense very quickly), you’ve got a good handle on how the world of Harry Dresden operates. He’s a lone wolf, so to speak, standing up to the Occult Forces of Chicago with only the support of his contact in the Chicago PD, Lt. Karrin Murphy. There’s also intrepid investigative reporter Susan Rodriguez, for whom Harry’s feelings are slightly more than professional.

There’s also the mysterious White Council of Wizards. While you may think that belonging to a worldwide magical fraternity might be a good thing, Harry Dresden would most certainly disagree. To be fair, he has a history – he did kill his mentor using black magic, which is something so bad that it’s number one on their list of Things a Wizard Must Not Do, which comes with one free beheading. His associates in the White Council barely tolerate him, and make it very clear that he’s worth more to them dead than alive. But more about this in other books….

The point is that Harry so far has been a fairly small-time operator. Yes, he takes down evil sorcerers and vicious werewolves, but mostly on his own. In this book, the camera pulls back a little and we learn more about his world and his connections, and a broader story starts to emerge.

The most interesting of these additions is Michael Carpenter, an associate of Harry’s whose view of the world comes from a very different place. Michael is a religious man, a committed Christian who sees Harry’s use of magic as impure and sullied, but associates with him anyway because they have a shared goal: the elimination of evil. Michael Carpenter is the Fist of God, one of the three Knights of the Cross. As such, he wields a faith powerful enough that even Harry can feel it. Oh, and he also wields a giant sword. With one of the nails from the True Cross worked into it. Amoracchius is a powerful weapon against evil, and a prize that anyone would be glad to have.

In this book (as in all his books), Harry is given more trouble than he can handle. It begins with ghosts, as so many things do. The ghosts of Chicago are being stirred up by something – they’re acting out in ways they would never act, causing an above-average amount of chaos and disorder in the city. And when there’s ghosts around, tearing up the pediatrics ward of your local hospital, who is it you’re going to contact telephonically? That’s right – Harry Dresden.

The ghosts are the least of his worries, however. The force behind them, the malicious entity that is driving the ghosts mad, is of far more concern to him. There’s something out there, a Nightmare, that is out for blood. It’s attacking Harry and his friends, and doing it through their dreams. Not just Harry’s friends who are in good with the supernatural, but some of his Muggle buddies as well. This thing is angry, evil, and can tear a person’s soul apart, leaving an empty husk that does nothing but try to scream.

As if that weren’t enough, the Red Court of Vampires is having a party, and they want Harry to come. Sounds lovely, right? A costume party with the vampires, a promise of protection to all invited guests – how can you have a better night? Myself, I’d start by not hanging around a house full of vampires and their allies. Especially when the hostess, a high-ranking member of the Court, has a serious personal grudge against me. The vampire Bianca wants Harry deader than dead, and she manages to set off a complex series of events to make sure it happens.

This book, as I said, expands the Dresden universe a bit. It assumes that the readers are fairly comfortable with what we know, and gives us a lot more to think about. The world-wide spread of vampires, the hide-bound White Council, and the ramifications of having a Faerie Godmother. In the previous books, we saw Harry come out on top against small-scale foes – now the camera pulls back to show us how he goes up against larger institutions.

In this book, Dresden is almost always out of his league – although I can’t imagine who would be in their league while facing a hoarde of really pissed off vampires while being on the brink of death already. Buffy, probably. Or River Tam. Anyone written by Joss Whedon, I guess. But Dresden makes it through. Not in the “Finding reserves of strength you never knew were there” style found in the Whedon Supergirls, but more in the “This just might be crazy enough to work, unless I kill myself doing it in which case it might not go so well after all” style.

Plus, it has my favorite trope of modern fantasy fiction – even if the hero wins, he doesn’t actually save the day. In fact, things get a whole lot worse. Which is all gravy for Jim Butcher, because it means he has all the more material to work with for the rest of the series.

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“There should be some kind of rule against needing to kill anything more than once.”
– Harry Dresden, Grave Peril
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