The Historian: Book Review

I can’t be the only one who feels like the summer is just flying by, right? How is it almost September? Although, I am pretty excited for some cooler weather!

I know I missed my last two Monday posts – things have been rather crazy and I decided I’d rather miss those deadlines (I know you, my gentle and understanding readers, would forgive me) than really stress myself out. But I am here, a day late, but here!

And don’t forget, my first newsletter is going to be coming out September 3rd! Sign up today if you haven’t already by clicking here! If you have already signed up, feel free to carry onto this spoiler-free review.

The Author

Elizabeth Kostova has written three novels, The Historian (2005), The Swan Thieves (2010), and The Shadow Land (2017). The Historian, which is what I’ll be reviewing today, was the first debut novel in U.S. publishing history to debut at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List.

It has been translated into 40 languages and has won Quill and Independent Bookseller Awards. She has also written some short fiction, poetry, and essays, which have appeared in The Mississippi Review, Poets & Writers Magazine, The Best American Poetry, The Michigan Quarterly, and Another Chicago Magazine. It may come as no surprise that she is also the co-founder of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation, which provides competitive opportunities for Bulgarian writers and translators, as well as opportunities for native-English writers to travel to Bulgaria.

The Novel

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.

– Elizabeth Kostova’s website

The Historian is about a young woman who finds some mysterious journals and papers in her father’s library. She convinces him to explain them and he begins to tell her an eerie story of a beloved mentor kidnapped, a chance meeting with his daughter, and a harried journey across Europe pursued by a shadowy menace. Just as the story gets good, her father goes missing but the protagonist refuses to give up and begins her own search into the cobwebby depths of history in order to save him. The novel explores the past and present together, while blending in the history and folklore of Vlad Țepeș and his fictional equivalent Count Dracula.

While the protagonist is told stories by her father, so was Kostova told stories by her father about Dracula when she was a child, which she then turned into The Historian. Whether or not Kostova is the protagonist of the novel has yet to be confirmed.

The Historian is listed as a bunch of genres, including Gothic, adventure, detective fiction, travelogue, postmodern historical novel, epistolary epic, and historical thriller. I have always viewed it as historical horror and I stand by that.

The Review

As an intro, let me just say that I bought this book over 9 years ago and I have read it five times now, the latest being this past week. Needless to say, this book has amazing re-read value – is that even a word? Maybe.

Kostova seamlessly weaves history, folklore, and fiction, creating an unforgettable and poignant tale of good versus evil and the endless, dark depths of history. The novel ties together three separate narratives using letters and oral accounts — it tells of the story of the father’s mentor in the 1930s, that of the father in the 1950s, and the protagonist in the 1970s.

Beyond the truly unique retelling of the Dracula myth, it’s also a detective story where the characters dig up evidence and clues, which is a lot of fun to read. Add to that well-rounded characters (who are also determined, brave, and yet so fragile) and you have the perfect combination. I cannot recommend this novel enough, I mean I’ve read it five times already and probably will read it again in a few years.  


x P.L. McMillan

p.s. Also, excuse the different look, WordPress switched the editor UI and I am trying my best with it.

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