Bibliophile reviews The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Year published: 2005
Genre: Supernatural mystery thriller
Setting & time: The USA, Europe and Turkey, 15th to 21st century

Warning: minor SPOILERS ahead

The Story: The story is narrated by a historian who tells the story of a desperate hunt for Dracula. Mysterious books have been delivered to several people, mostly librarians and historians, that suggest that someone wants them to know that Dracula lives. But once they begin searching for clues as to his whereabouts, they are warned off (or are they? - I suspect they are being tested rather than warned) by a mysterious force that they suspect is Dracula himself. The hunt covers several centuries, through the research the searchers have to do to uncover the truth, but the main story begins in the 1930s and spans the middle decades of the 20th century and tells of three generations of historians who race against time to discover the secret location of Dracula's tomb and just what it is he wants with them.

Technique and plot: It took me a long time to finish this book – I read into the middle of it in two sessions and then stalled for almost two months before I started reading it again. Why? To be frank, it sags badly in the middle and could do with some editing and tightening. There is so much overdescription and overplotting that drags down the story that I was tempted to grab a pencil and start editing. I never thought I would say this about a mystery, but there are too many clues (!!) and not all of them are necessary. The plan may have been to create a richness of narrative, but I at least kept thinking "get on with it!" again and again. The main narrative thread keeps getting broken up with chapters and chapters of flashbacks in the form of letters or historical documents that are so long that once the main thread reappears, you have as good as forgotten where the main narrative left off before the flashback.

That said, here are the good points: Kosova can write. She is a good storyteller and the plotting is good, even if it is too elaborate at times, which is why I kept reading to the end. I wanted to know how it ended and why it ended that way, even if I had to wade through a lake of padding to do it.

The parallels with Bram Stoker's original Dracula are clear, except for the plot element of Dracula actually wanting to be found, and while Kostova's dark prince is a lot smarter and more devious than Stoker´s, he is ultimately a legitimate offspring of Stoker's evil monster rather than of the modern, sympathetic Anne Rice vampire. My only complaint with regard to Dracula is that we see too little of him – he is rather like Tolkien's Sauron in that respect: his presence is felt rather than seen throughout most of the book.

Rating: A good plot, but too much padding. 3 stars.


piksea said…
I was pretty much just 'ehh' about this book. I did love that Dracula wanted to make an army of undead scholars, though. I would volunteer if it meant I could spend eternity curled up with a book. Oh, and the idea of the evil librarian cracked me up.
Bibliophile said…
The evil librarian did give me some giggles.

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