Title: The Last American Vampire
Author: Seth Grahame-Smith
No. of Pages: 416
Origins: Grand Central Publishing
Release Date: 13 January 2015
Bottom Line: It’s just a goofy and entertaining alternative history that never takes itself too seriously.
“In Reconstruction-era America, vampire Henry Sturges is searching for renewed purpose in the wake of his friend Abraham Lincoln’s shocking death. It will be an expansive journey that will first send him to England for an unexpected encounter with Jack the Ripper, then to New York City for the birth of a new American century, the dawn of the electric era of Tesla and Edison, and the blazing disaster of the 1937 Hindenburg crash. Along the way, Henry goes on the road in a Kerouac-influenced trip as Seth Grahame-Smith ingeniously weaves vampire history through Russia’s October Revolution, the First and Second World Wars, and the JFK assassination.
Thoughts: When readers last saw Henry Sturges, he was helping his pal Abraham Lincoln fight the evil vampire plot of the Confederacy that led to the Civil War. Then, Abraham Lincoln was killed by one of those same evil vampires, one John Wilkes Booth, and Henry was left to struggle on without his BFF. As it turns out, there are plenty more adventures for him to while away the next century or two, and that is exactly what happens in The Last American Vampire.
In this continuation of Henry’s story, one learns more about his past, how he came to be one of the first settlers in the New World and what convinced him to head back to London. He covers some of his darker moments and what convinces him to fight against other vampires. This knowledge fleshes out Henry’s character, but he never loses the enigmatic quality that made him so compelling in Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. This is essential in a story that is essentially one far-fetched twist after another.
This is not to say that the numerous far-fetched twists are not entertaining. In fact, the opposite is true. The twists on certain well-known tragedies and world-changing events are highly amusing and engaging specifically because the whole thing is done with tongue firmly in cheek. Mr. Grahame-Smith has become famous for balancing the line between humor and farce, between overly exaggerated plot devices and amusing twists that enhance the satirical nature of the story, and he deftly does so again with this one.
The Last American Vampire may tickle the funny bone, but it does double as a horror story. The violence is frequent and gory. Mr. Grahame-Smith never skirts from explicit details of death and dismemberment. The scenes involving the Jack the Ripper murders are particularly detailed and gruesome. To make these scenes even more uncomfortable for readers, they are almost lovingly described, as if the narrator is taking great pride in the blood and gore produced. While creating a greater disgust factor, it also gives an intriguing look into the mind of a predator.
What can one say about a book that imagines that all of American history’s biggest events were influenced in some fashion by vampires? As it turns out, the only thing that can be said is that it makes for a silly but very fun book. The alternative history is creative, and Henry Sturges is an intriguing main character who never really loses his mysterious charm. Most importantly, The Last American Vampire never takes itself too seriously, and that makes all the difference.