Book Cover
Title The Historian
Series ---
Author Elizabeth Kostova
Cover Art ---
Publisher Little, Brown and Company - 2005
First Printing Little, Brown and Company - 2005
Category Horror
Warnings None

Main Characters

Paul, Bartholomew Rossi, Helen Rossi, Dracula

Main Elements Vampires

"To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history..."

Late one night, exploring her father's library, a young woman finds and ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters are all addressed to "My dear and unfortunate successor," and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of - a labyrinth where the secrets of her father's past and her mother's mysterious fate connect to an inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history.

The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known - and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out. It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed on the basis of the legend of Dracula. Generations of historians have risked their reputations, their sanity, and even their lives to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself - to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive.

What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world? Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed - and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends? The answers to these questions cross time and borders, as first the father and then the daughter search for clues, from dusty Ivy League libraries to Istandbul, Budapest and the depths of Eastern Europe.

In city after city, in monastaries and archives, in letters and in secret conversations, the horrible truth emerges about Vlad the Impaler's dark reign - and about a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive down through the ages.

Parsing obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions - and evading the unknown adversaries who will go to any lengths to conceal and protect Vlad's ancient powers - one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil. Elizabeth Kostova's debut novel is an adventure of monumental proportions, a relentless tale that blends fact and fantasy, history and the present, with an assurance that is almost unbearably [note: remaining part of jacket blurb was missing]

This isn't a book for everyone. It is big, can be dry at times, and it is more about the history and research than about action. Now I normally enjoy stuff like that, however in this case I had to read the book fast and that definitely is not a good way to enjoy this book. So this review is a bit biased, I think I would have liked it more if I had time to slow down and read it at the pace it was meant to be read.

I'll put out this warning, if you are looking for a book about vampires and Dracula, go elsewhere. If you like history, libraries, archives and mysteries (but don't need something that is fully factual and accurate) you will probably enjoy it more. Keep in mind though, you can't trust all the "facts" in this novel, a good chunk of the historical documents are invented, so if you really want to learn about Vlad the Impaler I suggest an actual biography. There's probably a well researched factual part to Kostova's writing, however you can't tell it apart from the parts she makes up. Seeing as this book it fiction, this is a good thing.

That said, it was an fascinating look into the lives of historians and what they do. I love libraries, old books, and the thought of spending my days locked inside the one to read the other. Also the way the book was written, in the form of present day events interleaved with letters written in the past was interesting. There are three main storylines that come together leading up to the conclusion, multiple perspectives from multiple characters from multiple moments in time.

However there were a few things that bothered me (other than the length of ~700 pages, you could easily chop out a couple hundred without losing anything). There are a LOT of coincidences. Now they sort of get explained, there is a reason behind what is happening to the historians who are presented with the "dragon book". However when you find out who is handing out those books and for what reason, there is a bit of an eye roll moment. It might be a historian's dream but it seems far from a credible reason. And without going into too much detail, first putting someone on the trail of a mystery then trying to scare them off isn't going to get you the best historian, only the most stubborn and/or bravest.

How goes the quote, something like "Willing suspension of disbelief does not mean hanging it by its neck until dead" [Marion Zimmer Bradley]

There are also a few things, like a reference to a Shakespearean play about what seems to be Dracula was another eye roll moment. Now this isn't a historical novel, it *is* a fantasy with actual vampires in it, so not all "historical" documents need to actually exist, but there were some pieces of evidence that had to stretch one's belief. Documents from unknown authors and unknown places are much more believable.

However, that said, for the most part it was quite the mystery adventure with a lots of twist, turns, dead ends and surprises. Random fragments of documents needed to be pieced together to make a complete whole. I think I might want to read it again some day, and not at a breakneck speed. Even knowing how it ends it isn't all that important, its the getting there (which is why I think I can forgive the bizarre purpose behind then entire tale). And believe me, while maybe not a satisfying ending, you are not going to guess how the mystery resolves itself. I did not see that coming! You will however guess how the whole thing ends.

Posted: October 2013


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