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Synopsis

To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history....Late one night, exploring her father's library, a young woman finds an 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 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 Istanbul, Budapest, and the depths of Eastern Europe. In city after city, in monasteries 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 suspenseful-and utterly unforgettable.

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The Historian
Average rating
3.7 / 5
Passionate scholars fight the real Dracula
July 16th, 2015
The Historian is Elizabeth Kostova's long novel about a group of people's search to find and destroy the vampire, Dracula. This is the same Dracula who is the object of Bram Stoker's classic novel, inspired by the historic ruler of Wallachia (next door to Transylvania), resister of the Ottoman Empire, and also known as "Vlad the Impaler." In fact, Stoker's novel is part of this novel's world and is mentioned several times. Readers learn a good bit about the historical Dracula, as well as about life in the Romanian part of eastern Europe, in the course of Ms Kostova's book. The vehicle for the search for Dracula is (mostly) compellingly described scholarly research. Moments of horror punctuate the narrative and lead to a satisfying portrayal of the Impaler himself. The numerous mentions of Bram Stoker's book in her's, shows Ms Kostova's admiration of that novel. She even borrowed from it the plot feature of a group of human allies bonding in their quest to find and destroy a great evil. Some of them even bond romantically, just as in Stoker's novel, contributing to the family relationship of the vampire hunters. Another device the book borrows from Stoker is the narrative consisting of documents written by the characters. These are made up of letters and journals and some are even noted as being inserted by a given character for the sake of providing completeness to the tale. This makes the narrative first-person accounts rotating among several of the main characters, as in Stoker's book. It is not done in a distracting way, however, and the general feel is simply of a first-person story. And that story is told in a modern format, with contemporary sensibilities, and without the "tritely romantic" or patriarchtic aspects of Stoker's book. But the overriding theme and tone of The Historian is the sheer love of books and scholarship, especially historical scholarship. The search for Dracula is mostly carried out in libraries--public libraries and the private libraries of monasteries and of the scholar-vampire hunters. This could make for a dry narrative but it does not in The Historian, which I attribute to the storytelling ability of the author and her obvious passion for books and study. Readers of like mind will appreciate this aspect. Then Ms Kostova pairs that love of scholarship with a love of travel. The characters travel a lot through Europe and we see through them the love of new destinations and the appreciation of exotic locales, cafes, foods, coffees, and wines. This melding of literary appreciation, scholarship, and traveling is what makes The Historian most memorable for me, and it is done--for the most part--without sacrificing the storytelling or slowing the plot. I say, "for the most part," because I think Ms Kostova does carry the travels, library searches, misdirections and dead-ends a bit too far before she reaches her finale. I think she could have cut a lot of that and reduced the length of her book by about one third without any loss to the story. It would have made the book's good parts even stronger. That burdensome excess cost the book a star in my rating. So we follow these library-loving scholars in their search for Dracula through three-fourths of the book before we encounter the five hundred year-old vampire. By that time, we've learned enough of the historic Vlad to get a feel for the kind of person he was, and then the presentation of him as a character complements that knowledge very well. He is presented with all the arrogance and psychopathy of the ruler-impaler, and yet he is also another scholar: Perhaps you do not know that I was something of a scholar. This seems not widely known...I became an historian in order to preserve my own history forever...I am a scholar at heart, as well as a warrior, and these books have kept me company through my long years. Even Dracula's relating of how he became a vampire through his search for the means of achieving immortality, included the vehicle of a book: But recently I met a man, a merchant who has traveled to a monastery in the West. He said there is a place in Gaul, the oldest church in their part of the world, where some of the Latin monks have outwitted death by secret means. He offered to sell me their secrets, which he has inscribed in a book. Appropriate. The Historian is a really neat work of fiction that is on my list of favorites because of its unapologetic love of books and learning, coupled with a stimulating vision of one of history's monsters brought to undead life. If you are a lover of books and appreciate the intellectual stimulation of searching for the resolution of mysteries in the historical record, then you'll find hanging on through The Historian's 700+ pages a rewarding experience.
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