Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova


The Historian is one whopper of a book, but it's worth every page and every word. It is the haunting tale of a young woman, a historian, who one day finds a book and some letters on the shelf of her father's library. The book is very old and is blank, except for a woodcut image in the middle of a dragon and the word "Drakulya". She asks her father about the book and the letters and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian unfolds.

Paul, the narrator's father who is also a historian, one day discovers the previously mentioned book and consults his dissertation adviser, Professor Rossi about it. He learns that his professor has also been "given" one of these mysterious books and has done some extensive research on it. Danger lies in the acquiring of these books. Rossi's research has taught him that Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula, still walks among us as a vampire. Shortly after revealing this to Paul, Rossi disappears. Paul digs deeper and deeper into the Dracula legend and history and begins to learn that there is more truth than myth to vampires. Along the way, he meets Helen, an anthropologist from Romania who is also interested in vampires and Dracula. Paul leaves America to find Rossi as he is convinced that the book leaves a clue as to his whereabouts and Helen joins him in his travels.

The above paragraph has happened in the past, but takes up the majority of the book. It is told through a very long letter that the narrator's father has written her. The narrator herself is on her own hunt. She certainly has her own interest in the hunt for Dracula, but she is hunting for more knowledge on her father's mysterious past, and even more so, she is hunting for the mother that she never knew.

The Historian hits all the right marks. It's written very well and has a very gothic feel to it. It was an extremely creepy book and the atmosphere was just perfect...old books left in dark places, empty libraries at night, old gothic buildings with people lurking in the shadows, and all of the scenes in Turkey, Hungary, and Romania were just perfect. In fact, I've never really considered wanting to visit any of these places until Kostova wrote about them and some of the amazing architecture, churches, cafes, and festivals in these countries.

I loved Kostova's characters...or loved to hate some of them. Either way, she knows how to create an interesting character. The love story between Paul and Helen was remarkable and something that I cherished and enjoyed every time I got a peek at it. I wished that I could've spent a little more time with the narrator of the book, and that is one of my only criticisms of the novel...that I didn't get to know her better. The different characters that Paul and Helen meet along the way that help them in their journey were wonderful -Rossi, Turgut, and Stoichev were all classic old scholars whom I really enjoyed and would love to sit down with and have a cup of tea and study their libraries.

For me, this novel was everything that a horror novel should be. The subject matter is certainly there - vampires, more specifically, the grand-daddy of all vampires, Dracula. There's a constant sense of foreboding, mystery, shadows lurking in the darkness, being a step away from a dark discovery. The best way to describe the book is that it is a modern gothic, mystery novel. Some may say that things fall into place a little too easily in this one...and at times they do, but it's fiction...and in fiction, that's just fine with me. Kostova has created a riveting novel that kept me up many nights because I just couldn't put it down. I can't wait to see what she does with the rest of her career!

37 comments:

Debi said...

Oh crap. Did you really have to go and write such a fantastic review and make me really, really, really want to go right out and buy this immediately?

Becky said...

I agree with Debi. I really have to stop reading your reviews. How is a girl supposed to resist such a book, now????

Becky said...

By the way, Chris, I just posted my review of the Worthing Saga on the Cardathon page :)

Chris said...

Debi, Go buy it!! lol...It really is a fantastic book. Especially if you're familiar the Dracula mythology and the history of Vlad the Impaler. Even if you're not, it's a history lesson in itself and it's just a riveting and haunting read. Warning though, it's quite long! It took me a week to read this one! It's been on the Bargain Book pile at Barnes and Noble for awhile now too, so look for it there!

Becky, You're not supposed to resist it ;) It's such a great book! And I could say the same about your reviews, lol...Like I'm sure I'll be saying about the Worthing Saga, it's one of the Card books that I haven't read!

DesLily said...

Well that makes 3 of the 4 scary books!! You should be ready for some lite reading when this is done lol..

Did you read Chivalry by Gaiman yet? just wondered.

Court said...

I'm currently reading this book too, and am having a hard time getting through it. Not because it isn't good, because it totally is. But mainly because I work all day and I've discovered that reading this at night (especially right before bed, but really any time after it starts getting dark) results in my having problems sleeping for fear there are vampires lurking in my apartment.... overactive imagination and all.... But was happy to read your review, and am happy to hear that you've enjoyed it. :)

Bookfool said...

I refuse to read this review, for fear of actually finding the book tempting. LOL But, hey, I love the photo! Is that your porch?

Chris said...

Deslily, I read Chivalry in Smoke and Mirrors not long back and loved it! I commented on your post about it a few days ago, go check!!

Court, Ha!! That cracks me up. I found the beginning of the book much more creepy in that way than the rest of it. If you can get through like the first 300 pages, you should be ok. After that, it's more the main characters hunting than being hunted!

Bookfool, It's such a good book though! ;) That is indeed my porch. It's the back patio where i do most of my reading. I should take a bigger photo of it one of these days and do a little post on it. There's a swing out there that I do most of my reading on and it's nice and shaded and somehow stays surprisingly cool here in the deep south! Don't you like the new black poppet?!

Bookfool said...

Your porch is perfect. I wish I had a shaded place to read - but I think I'd need a screen to keep the skeeters out.

Love the black poppet. All I need is something green and I think I'm done collecting (yeah, right). Did I once see a green alien by Lisa on your blog, or was that somewhere else?

Eva said...

What a good review! And your purple and black poppets remind me that my two (in the same colours) are in the mail. Yay! :)

I can't believe some people are trying resist The Historian...especially since it's on sale at B&N. There're also copies at bookmooch. I think everyone should read this one!

Stephanie said...

Chris - Great review as usual!! You know, I SHOULD have read this book when it first came out. I did go out and buy it...then it disappeared by the hand of my brother and I haven't seen it since. (Note to self: call the little rat and make him give it back to me!) I'm kind of afraid it's going to be a book where now my expectations are so high, I'm going to be disappointed! The Book Thief actually surpassed my expectations, so I hope this one does too!

Carl V. said...

I really should go pick this up at Barnes and Noble since it is on the bargain shelf! Glad you enjoyed it, encourages me to go pick it up.

Nymeth said...

I'm with Debi and Becky... I REALLY want to go out and buy this one now. And I saw a copy at a charity shop just the other day...

kfj said...

I started this book, but put it back on the shelf again, course it seemed to strange to bring it on the beach or on the balcony in 35 degrees and read it, there is simply too much light to read a dark horror book. So I decided to save it for November, when its more rainy and dark. :-).

But the 100 pages I did read, sounded great.

Chris said...

Bookfool, You saw the green alien on Carl's blog! And we're all envious ;) Just kidding, lol. But she hinted that their may be one (maybe more?) available at her "Play in the Dark" sale in October! So keep your eyes open for that.

I love our porch! Unfortunately, we're only renting our house until we fix our house that Katrina claimed. But I'm so in love with the porch, that I'm actually considering taking over the rent and staying here instead of finding an apartment when my mom finishes her house.

Eva, Thanks! You'll love your poppets, they're great! I know have 6 in my collection ;)

I don't know why people are resisting either..it's such a great book...and it's awesome that B&N has had it at that price. I just saw that Amazon is selling it cheap as well. Guess they printed way too many copies of that one!

Stephanie, I have a feeling that this one will surpass your expectations as well ;) It surpassed mine and I was worried about the same thing. I've been worried about the Book Thief as well. I've been wanting to read that one too and now I'm scared that it won't live up to my expectations, but it sounds like it will!

Carl, You would REALLY enjoy this one. I'd say pick it up, even if it's for a future read while the hardcover's available at such a great price. It has the damn remainder mark on it though :/ It was a fun book though, very creepy.

Nymeth, Go get it ;) Although this one is really going to add some pounds to your luggage! It's a great book, maybe there's a library over there that would have it...I can't believe I'm telling someone not to BUY a book! I know you would like this one though.

KFJ, I completely understand that. It just seems wrong to read a horror novel in the wrong weather, doesn't it? My favorite thing about reading books like this is just getting sucked into the atmosphere of them and part of that is creating the atmosphere around you. Hope you enjoy the rest of it when you get to it. Thanks for stopping by!

Stephanie said...

This is on my RIP II list and as soon as I finish my book club book, One Thousand White Women, then it's back to RIP books!
Thanks for the glowing review! Now I really can't wait!
Stephanie
www.thewrittenword.wordpress.com

Becky said...

I've now got The Historian AND Empire by Card checked out from the library :)

Chris said...

Stephanie, I'm taking a quick RIP break too to read the new Orson Scott Card book. This one will definitely get you right back in the mood though! Looking forward to your thoughts on it!

Becky, Glad you picked up the Historian :) You'll love it! You haven't read Empire yet? Ooh, you're in for a treat! A lot of his fans didn't like it, but I really enjoyed it...but then again, I don't think I've ever been disappointed by him...except maybe with Magic Mirror, that one didn't do much for me.

Chris said...

Other Chris, I loved this one too.

Chris said...

Hey Other Chris ;) Wasn't this one great?!

Framed said...

I'm right in the middle of this book so I only read part of your review. I'm afraid I may learn more than I want. But I totally agree that the writing is phenomenal. The story is so gripping. In fact, I need to get back to it immediately.

SuziQoregon said...

Great review!! You made me want to read it soon, rather than let it languish on my TBR list until some unknown time in the future.

Chris said...

Framed, Can't wait to read your review when your done! It was such a gripping story. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it! Perfect read for this challenge.

SuziQ, This one had been on my TBR stack for WAY too long. It was one of those intimidating, long books that just looked like too much of a commitment, but I decided to start off the RIP challenge with a Dracula theme and this was just perfect. So glad I finally read it. I couldn't have been more pleased with it!

jean pierre said...

YAY!! i'm glad to hear this is good! i love vampire lore and dracula especially. once i've read dracula then i'll definitely be reading this one before too long...

jenclair said...

So glad you enjoyed The Historian! I loved the way she "reinvented" characters and places from the original Dracula. Didn't you think that Jonathan and Mina and Paul and Helen seemed analogous? And the 4 men who united to help defeat the vampire in both books? She builds on the original and makes it contemporary without losing the essential of Stoker's version.

Cath said...

Excellent review. I'm 400 pages in and thoroughly enjoying the journey. So much rich historical detail. I'm sure it's going to be one of my favourite reads of the year.

Chris said...

JP, You'll definitely love this one if you're a fan of vampire lore. I highly suggest it as a follow up to Dracula. That's what I did and it was perfect. Did you ever find a copy of Dracula that you liked?

Jenclair, You know, I'm a little slow and didn't even catch all of that! But that makes the book even more brilliant now that I think about it. She did make the novel very contemporary while keeping that Gothic feel to it. I enjoyed that.

Cath, It's definitely one of my favorites of the year. It's a gripping story isn't it? I couldn't put it down!

Booklogged said...

Chris, this was an awesome review. I wish I could express myself as well as you do. I was blown away by this book, too. It was creepy and gothic and quite scary. Also deliciously written. Loved it.

Chris said...

Booklogged, "Deliciously written" I'd say that's expressed pretty perfectly ;) Wasn't this one great?! It'll definitely be on my best of '07 list! I loved it as well.

cj said...

Hmmm. I think this is in my stack somewhere. I guess I should dig it out. You really do make it seem like something I want to read.

cjh

Chris said...

CJ, It's definitely worth digging out of the stacks. It had been sitting on mine for quite some time! I imagine it will eventually work it's way back onto the stack sometime in the future ;)

Jen said...

I loved, LOVED this book! I absolutely devoured it. It took me a week to read only because I had to deliberately slow myself down, so I would have more to look forward to. I intend to read it again for the R.I.P. challenge.

And great review...you pretty much summed it up!

Chris said...

Jen, It was such a great book! I can definitely see myself re-reading this one for future RIP challenges. Everything about it was enjoyable. The characters, the settings, the way it was written...just loved it!

Dewey said...

I really loved this book, too. The only complaint I had is that about 4/5 through, I got tired of reading and just wanted the answer to the big question, you know the one I mean. I think I just couldn't sustain suspense that long. :)

I see you're reading Heart Shaped Box! It's on my wishlist so I'm curious to know how you like it so far.

Chris said...

Dewey, I understand...it was quite a long book and I can relate to your wanting answers! I really don't know how I feel about Heart Shaped Box to be honest. It's ok so far, but I'm not overly impressed. I think that I may have built it up for myself a bit too much. It's a decent read though and it's holding my interest, but after reading Dracula and The Historian, it's hard to live up to that!

Shannansbooks said...

I am currently listening to this book on tape and following along in the book. I love it. There is a lot of suspense. I recommend to anyone who likes a good mystery.

Chris said...

Shannan, I'd love to check this one out on audio book, I bet that adds a great touch to it! Thanks for stopping by!