[He received] A package containing a bundle of ancient letters, a list of names and contact information, and ten ancient-looking leather-bound journals, each one filled with tightly packed handwriting. They were the personal journals of Abraham Lincoln, chronicling his lifelong battle against the vampires that had shaped his destiny and long haunted the American night. Right. Of course they were. I didn’t believe a word of it, just as I don’t believe in flying saucers or Santa Claus or happy endings. There were no such things as vampires, let alone ax-wielding vampire hunters who went on to become president of the United States. Henry, anticipating this, had seen fit to convince me that night in a shocking way that left me badly shaken. Once you’ve seen those glassy fangs, those pulsing blue veins, and the satiation of that bottomless hunger for blood, there’s little room left for doubt.
Just as the towering myth of Abraham Lincoln—honest backwoods lawyer, spinner of yarns, righter of wrongs—tells only part of the truth, so, too, is the myth of America woefully incomplete. The country that Ronald Reagan once called “a shining city upon a hill” has, in fact, been tangled up in darkness since before she was born. Millions of souls have graced the American stage over the centuries, played parts both great and small, and made their final exits. But of all the souls who witnessed America’s birth and growth, who fought in her finest hours, and who had a hand in her hidden history, only one soul remains to tell the whole truth.
What follows is the story of Henry Sturges.
What follows is the story of an American life.
I never expected to read a story about a vampire that brings in the gothic tale as old as time about vampires and then goes through the ages and talks with all the greatest minds who ever lived.
What we have here is a curious vampire with infinite time available.
I asked him questions. Sometimes I stopped him for clarification or elaboration. Mostly I just listened, taking notes and recording every word on my phone—both of us aware of, and amused by, the fact that we were living out a fictional scenario imagined by Anne Rice almost forty years earlier.
He even makes Abraham Lincoln a vampire (for a short period as he throws himself out of the window horrified of what he’s become and burns to death)
“I’ve broken a sacred vow,” said Henry. “I’ve borrowed you back. Returned you to a nation that still needs your wisdom and your strength.” Abe shook his head.
“You’ve undone everything. Whatever good I accomplished, whatever grief I suffered—all that I lost. It means nothing now.”
“You’ve made me the very evil I devoted my life to fighting.”
“I’ve made you immortal, so that you and I might continue what we began.”
“This isn’t what I wanted…”
This old vampire has seen at least 300 years go by. (Henry had marked his three hundredth year during America’s Civil War. Three hundred years of motion. Of taking new names, making new homes, adapting to the world as it changed around him. In 1888, with the war long over and the greatest man he’d ever known twenty-three years in the grave, he moved again. This time he swam against the westward tide of progress, leaving the Midwest and settling in New York City.)
Henry is summoned to New York City, the Union’s headquarters, by their leader Adam Plantagenet, a highly respected older vampire, alive since 1305. He shows Henry boxes containing the heads of some of their emissaries along with a note from the mysterious “A. Grander VIII”. He is tasked with finding and stopping this man from destroying more vampires. Plantagenet himself is killed soon after.
Henry decides to begin his hunt in London, England, under the guise of a textile importer. Unsure where first to go, he decides to find out the vampire presence here. It turns out that the Henry Irving, a famed actor in England, is a vampire. Wanting to get in touch with Irving, he tracks down and finds his assistant, Abraham ‘Bram’ Stoker. Initially reluctant to allow Henry access to his charge, he relents when Henry reveals his vampirism. Stoker and his family quickly become one of Henry’s close friends.
Along the way, Henry reveals some of the events from his life as a human and his early time as a vampire including turning his adopted daughter, the first English baby born in the ‘New World’, Virginia Dare, into a vampire.
Finding a victim is, in a way, like finding a mate. We venture into the night, hoping to find the right one. That one in a thousand that makes our eyes light up and our breath quicken, for whatever subconscious or chemical reason. Some nights we get lucky; other nights we settle. Some nights we simply go home hungry.
His travels and adventures bring him across the world where he helps Arthur Conan Doyle and stop Jack the Ripper.
“Her throat was severed to the spine in two swift strokes. Like this…” Doyle demonstrated, moving his right arm back and forth across Henry’s throat in level, precise strokes. “Then he repositions his body and makes three deep, successive wounds across the abdomen and genital area, before disemboweling her.”
He is also put into action as a United States Government agent, and becomes a highly decorated veteran of both World Wars. He also befriends inventor Nikola Tesla and assists in assassinating the feared mystic Rasputin.
Twain indicated the laboratory around them.
“My grandfather couldn’t have imagined a world of locomotives and steamships. This, right here? This is the electric future my father never could have imagined. What happens after I kick off, well… that’ll be a future I couldn’t have imagined, and rightly so. It’s none of my business. No matter how long you live, there’ll always be a future just beyond your reach. It’s as true for me as it was for my brother. Always has been, always will be, until God strikes the tent and takes the circus to the next town. Hell, I wish we could all be born at the age of eighty and work our way back to eighteen, too. But that’s not the way the plans were drawn up. “A fear of death,” Twain continued, “follows from the fear of life . A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” Henry was thunderstruck.
Grander is revealed to be Virginia Dare and Henry and Lincoln (revealed to be alive) track her down. They fight until Dare is killed by Henry but not before mortally wounding Lincoln.
The last portion of the novel has Henry meeting Alexei Romanov, also a vampire, who attempts to recruit him, now the last known American vampire, into a reconstituted Union of Vampires.
I liked how, like Anne Rice, he found ways to associate existing events and places with Vampires. It might not have been New Orleans but the idea still remains.
The slave trade that sparked the Civil War had been controlled by Southern vampires who had grown too rich and too comfortable. With slavery, they had finally found a sustainable method of feeding on human blood. Vampires possessed of such cruelty could never be allowed to concentrate such power again.
Yes, there were moments when I thought the book was too long when I read it, it was just so much happening during so many years that I just felt that this could have easily been two books. But in the end when I was finished and looked back; everything was important, every encounter led in the end to the confrontation between Henry Sturges and A. Grander III.
But still it was very much happening and I was left a bit exhausted in the end like one do when a book has had a so strong grip of you that you hardly know what to do when you have finished the book. But what a great read. This review is actually one of the hardest I have had to write because so much happened, but I don’t want to give much away.