Saturday, 8 October 2011

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
First published by Little, Brown and Company in 2005 (this edition by Sphere in 2010)

Description (from Goodreads)
Late one night, exploring her father's library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to 'My dear and unfortunate successor'. Her discovery plunges 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 evil hidden in the depths of history. 
In those few quiet moments, she unwittingly assumes a quest she will discover is her birthright - a hunt for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the Dracula myth. Deciphering obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions, and evading terrifying adversaries, 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 captivating tale that blends fact and fantasy, history and the present with an assurance that is almost unbearably suspenseful - and utterly unforgettable.

My thoughts
Before deciding to finally read this book, The Historian had been sitting on my bookshelves for a little longer than it should have. I did have a rather good excuse for that; its size. The Historian is over 700 pages long and it has tiny (and I do mean tiny) print. So, when it came round to me choosing the next book I wanted to read, I always ended up skipping it.

I am going to be completely honest here by saying that, though the book was great and I really enjoyed reading it, I felt like it could have been a little shorter. There were parts of it that just seemed to go on and on without really adding that much more new information to the story or helping much in the character building. But, despite that "slight" problem, The Historian really is an excellent book. It has a great narrator, great characters, lots of historical facts (if you are into that kind of stuff) and some weird things going on. What is weird about this book is that I am pretty sure the daughter (a young girl and the narrator of our story) is - as far as I noticed - never actually named. And I just realised this now, when I sat down to write up the review.

The story itself focuses on the legend of Vlad Dracula. Vlad Dracula is actually a person who existed historically, and who was evil and a little perverted. He ruled the region of Wallachia (in what is now part of Romania) and is also known by his other name, Vlad the Impaler, because of the fact that he used to impale his enemies on great poles (it was his favourite method of execution). The book contains a large number of facts about the mythology surrounding Vlad Dracula, particularly the mythology that also surrounds the inspiration of Bram Stocker's classic book, Dracula.

The story progresses through various methods. The main part of the book is about Paul and Helen's (who are closely related to the narrator) journey to find out the truth about some weird and unexplained events that seem to bring lots of people from rather different backgrounds together. Everything starts off when our narrator is in her teens and finds an ancient book on her father's bookshelves. She then proceeds to ask him about it and he slowly starts telling her a story, which began even before she was born. Later on in the book,  the author used other meant to keep on telling the story of the past (other than the father - Paul - 's storytelling), with just a few paragraphs on what is happening in the present time. (It might sound confusing, but it's not, really)

What I found to be a bit of a problem with this book was the fact that too big a part of it seemed to take part in the past. The vast majority of the book was taken over by the father's storytelling (as well as by the other devices the author uses to bring the past into the present), with only a limited number of pages left over for the narration of what is happening in the present. Sometimes, those "past" parts seemed to go on for too long (without much of a "present" break) and I was a little put out by the fact that we didn't get to focus on the actual narrator as much. She was mainly used as a device to introduce the "past" and didn't seem to have as much of an active role as I would have liked. More specifically, her interactions with Bailey were so refreshing and lovely, that I was a little sad that there weren't more of them in the story.

All in all, though it is a rather hefty book, The Historian is a worthwhile read. It is enjoyable and very informative (without becoming too heavy on information). Elizabeth Kostova has a wonderful way of writing and it is obvious that she has spent a large amount of time researching historical information to write this book. I will definitely be looking out for more of her books in the future.

Rating: 8/10

Elizabeth Kostova is an American author. She holds a degree from Yale University, as well as an MFA from the University of Michigan. The Historian was her first novel and was published in 2005. She has since published a second book, called The Swan Thieves.

You can find out more about Elizabeth Kostova and her books from her official website.

Read for the: 100 Books In A Year Challenge 2011


  1. 700 pages! I don't think I could ever read a book of that size unless it was reviewed as being 'absolutely perfect' by everybody who read it :P

    It's strange how many books don't have a named lead, very odd

  2. This book has been on my bookshelf for years. I tried to read it once but set it aside (this is before everyone had read it and said it was awesome). I'm still planning on reading it...eventually.

  3. Wonderful review! I agree with you completely. It's a hefty, yet great read. I found it to be a pretty intellectual story, too.


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