The Historian

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostovas (2005)

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostovas (2005)

Well, well.  December is almost upon us and it’s finally time to bid the 2013 school year adieu. Assignments are in, exams are done and I can finally set down the textbooks and reward my feeble, sleep-deprived brain with a beautiful pile of summer reading. But before I get into all that, I want to share a fun read I enjoyed during study break – The Historian by Elizabeth Kostovas.

The book opens in Amsterdam in 1972, when a young (and unnamed) female protagonist stumbles across a mysterious package of letters in her father’s library while he is travelling on diplomatic business.  The letters are ominously addressed ‘To my dear and unfortunate successor . . .’ and seem to detail a search for the final resting place of Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler – the infamous Wallahian prince who was killed in the 15th century and inspired the modern legend of Dracula.  The letters chronicle a chain of disturbing events, all suggesting that Vlad the Impaler didn’t stay dead.

If you enjoy mysteries, bookish heroes and dusty libraries in exotic locations – you will probably enjoy The Historian.  The story is told in three voices: the female protagonist, her father (who reluctantly explains the letters to his daughter) and his former college mentor, who disappeared in the 1950s.  It takes you on a journey from America to Oxford University, and on to the Netherlands, Turkey, Romania and Hungary – among other places.  One of my favourite things about the book was how Kostovas brought these beautiful, alien settings to life in rich, sensory detail. Another aspect I enjoyed is how carefully Kostovas treads the line between gothic fantasy and a historical detective novel.  You never know exactly how far she plans to stray into fantasy, which means you never quite know what to expect. The Cold War setting also injected an intriguing dimension to the quest, most of which takes place in Eastern Europe.

In a market that has become saturated with paranormal fiction, The Historian is something fun and a little different.  Our young heroine is naïve but likable – she spends her time reading and exploring foreign cities rather than making eyes at the mysterious, perfectly coiffed boy in her science class.  With that being said, there are threads of romance interwoven into each of the narrators’ stories.  However, these are by no means the primary focus of the book. And while I’m certain I would have enjoyed this book as a 14 or 15 year old, it’s not marketed as a young adult book and would appeal to a range of age groups.

So, I described The Historian as fun. Being a New York Times bestseller, it’s certainly a consumable book and I will say that more discerning readers should approach it with a light-spirit.  The story starts to get a bit silly once we are finally introduced to Dracula in the flesh.  Ironically, he seemed more sinister while he was lurking out of sight in obscure folktales and ancient documents.  Another criticism would be the slow build (my edition is well over 600 pages), however it’s still thoroughly enjoyable if you can sit back and enjoy the atmosphere.

Despite this, the Historian was really a perfect distraction for me in the lead up to exam time.  And now that I’m a free woman again, I’ll be kicking off another summer reading challenge – book-list to come.  Stay tuned  . . .

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