“The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova is a perfect blending of history, fantasy, and myth. Kostova takes the vampire myth and turns it on its side and slips it into history. The story is mostly told as flashbacks but is done in an artful manner and the reader is able to follow both the current and flashback story without problems. Although, there is a startling change in the narrative that does take some getting used to, and that is the mix between first and third person. This switch is done because of how the main character tells the story: her story in first person and her father’s story done in flashback.
The story takes the characters across the globe and having a map to chart the various journeys and places would aid the reader in an overall understanding of the history being presented. Chapter 1 thrusts the characters into a strange land at the foot of the Slovenian Alps and ancient castles. Even though the main character remains nameless throughout the entire novel, the reader remains so intrigued with the mystery of the various disappearances and the cryptic notes discovered by the main character.
The romance of traveling abroad will draw in the reader as Kostova paints a beautiful picture of old Eastern European towns as well as the beauty of the varied cultures established in that geographical region. She also lays out just enough of the actual history of the Ottoman Empire’s influence on that area’s culture to keep one interested without overburdening with dry facts and making one feel like they are back in fifth grade history class.
For the bibliophile, the life of the traveling, researching professor and his daughter who spend many hours in dusty libraries surrounded by the scents of aging paper and leather will most likely cause a bit of envy. Kostova deftly places the reader into several libraries in the story and each one shows it is just as different from the last. These libraries begin as a place of safety and a boon to the characters. Although, by the end of the story the libraries seem to be an ultimate prison.
The vampire part of the story provides a strong connecting undercurrent of the events in the story all without introducing a single vampire until later in the book. This foreshadowing of the vampiric characters yet to come is done so gracefully, one can almost envision the shadows hiding Dracula himself. In a way, the foreshadowing almost becomes a character itself as one anxiously awaits for its next appearance.
So many interesting places and people are presented in “The Historian” that I was surprised to learn some of the books referenced are actually fictional. And the story told by Kostova immerses one into actual history so well that unless one intentionally looks further into the list of books they would be assumed real. The main fictional book that makes an appearance is the untitled dragon books which different characters receive under mysterious circumstances.
The ending of “The Historian” felt a bit rushed with trying to tie up all the loose threads to an already lengthy book. It is tempting to delve into the mysteries and secrets of the story, but that is the fun of the book. However, without going into much more detail, this review seems a bit short for a book that I believe most lovers of a good mystery will enjoy. After turning the last page, I felt encouraged to go learn more of the actual history behind the book after reading it. A good book leaves one wanting more. And in this case, it left me wanting more history.
I give this book five flags.