The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova [book review]

The Historian coverThe Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon
Release Date: September 1st 2009
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Series: n/a

Goodreads description: For centuries, the story of Dracula has captured the imagination of readers and storytellers alike. Kostova’s breathtaking first novel, ten years in the writing, is an accomplished retelling of this ancient tale. “The story that follows is one I never intended to commit to paper.. As an historian, I have learned that, in fact, not everyone who reaches back into history can survive it.” With these words, a nameless narrator unfolds a story that began 30 years earlier.

Late one night in 1972, as a 16-year-old girl, she discovers a mysterious book and a sheaf of letters in her father’s library — a discovery that will have dreadful and far-reaching consequences, and will send her on a journey of mind-boggling danger. While seeking clues to the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s puzzling disappearance, she follows a trail from London to Istanbul to Budapest and beyond, and learns that the letters in her possession provide a link to one of the world’s darkest and most intoxicating figures. Generation after generation, the legend of Dracula has enticed and eluded both historians and opportunists alike. Now a young girl undertakes the same search that ended in the death and defilement of so many others — in an attempt to save her father from an unspeakable fate.

The Historian was on my Top Ten Summer TBR. I found it randomly at Barnes and Noble a few years ago. It was on sale for about $5 and I didn’t even see that it was about vampires and Dracula. I just like history and I think I saw something about a young woman and her family’s secrets. When I looked at it again, I knew it was about Dracula but was really interested because a lot of bloggers seem to like this book!

I read this in July and I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts because I don’t know how to explain how I feel about this book. It’s difficult because there’s just so much to it. It’s long and it felt longer. Obviously, all long books have a lot to them, but this one has a lot of facts and information and stories along with the plot. There was so much to absorb. It took me longer to read than I expected. I enjoyed reading it, but it was a lot more work than I expected. 

The main character of this book isn’t named. Somewhere it’s explained that she’s named after her grandmother, but I don’t think her name is shared either. I tried to Google this to check my facts, but I didn’t have much luck. Expect the word “she” to be used a lot! The story is told in the daughter’s POV. Her father is always gone because he travels for work and her mother is dead. She goes to school and lives with the housekeeper when her father is away. She is very smart and works hard, but she wants to know about her mother and wants to spend time with her father. She discovers a strange book and some notes in her father’s study and when she asks him about it, things begin to change. He starts to tell her a story, a long and complex story that he tells in pieces. He only tells her a piece of the story when they go on trips.

The story is about how he came to the book, a book with a dragon, blank pages, and the word Drakulya. It was given to him randomly. It began an investigation into Dracula and the person the myth was based on, Vlad the Impaler. He mentions it to a mentor and discovers the mentor received the same book and also investigated the origins of Dracula, Vlad, and vampires. He believes that Vlad is still alive today. He used to research to try prove it, but people started dying or getting injured so he stopped.

The story is long and Paul (her father) includes some kind of weird details sometimes considering it was going to his daughter. The way he tells the story is kind of weird because he skirts around details, and it works for the story and how things are revealed, but I’m not completely sure it works for a father telling a daughter a story. Maybe it’s just the type of person he is, but I think if I were the daughter, it would have been extremely frustrating to me. The story is a mystery and he explains their investigation but the book is filled with many stories. There’s Paul’s story which intersects so many stories, Helen’s story, his mentor Rossi’s story, Dracula’s story, the narrator’s own story, and many others. There’s a lot of story going on.

The stories withing stories are all engaging and interesting. I definitely felt emotionally involved with the characters. There are three romances and I liked them all. There were family aspects that were heartbreaking and frustrating. There were tons of side characters that had important roles and a lot of them were really entertaining.

I really enjoyed that the setting, the story takes place all over Europe during the Cold War. There was a lot of traveling in Europe and trouble with governments and talks of effects of WWII. It was all fascinating. There’s a map of Cold War Europe in the front and it was immensely helpful to follow the journeys on the it. I liked reading about all the places they visited and all the different cultures. There’s a lot of actual history and some obviously fake history, too. It was all really interesting to me. Real and fake, Vlad was creepy and it’s easy to be horrified and fascinated by things he did. When it turns into a vampire story, things got a little weird for me. The vampire aspect of this story wasn’t very satisfying for me. Vlad’s motivations as a vampire seemed off.

For there to be so much explanation and setup, I felt like the end was very rushed. I was a bit disappointed. The storytelling is engaging and thick, so I expected more from the action filled ending. For everything that happens in this book, and like I said a LOT happens, it seemed really easy. Really easy. I don’t exactly know how else it could have ended but it just felt weak to me.

3 star rating

I enjoyed so much about this book and was extremely interested and invested in the story. I did think it was a bit bogged down by information, but I loved the relationships, the traveling and descriptions of countries and cultures, and the history both real and fake. I seriously doubt I would ever want to read it again, even though I enjoyed a lot about it. I would recommend The Historian if you’re interested in complex stories with some surprises, heavy information, enjoyable characters, and a vampire story that almost doesn’t feel like a vampire story.

Check out Elizabeth Kostova‘s website!

11 thoughts on “The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova [book review]

  1. I’ve seen this book before and tried to read it, but it didn’t hold my interest. I usually don’t like the way Vlad Tepesh is potrayed in books (except for Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress, because he’s cool). And I’m not much of a history person, either, so…

    But I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    • If you don’t like history, I can see how this one would be really difficult to get through! There are just sooo many details! Do you know a lot about Vlad Tepesh? I don’t, just the general History Channel summary. I should learn more about him, since I do always enjoy the History Channel stuff about him! I don’t think I actually would have picked this one up if I’d known more about it, but I enjoyed it, so it wasn’t a total waste!

  2. I won’t be posting my own thoughts on this book until October 14th, at the close the RIPVIII Readalong, but I had some issues with this book. I liked parts of it very much, but I felt like other bits (details in particular about food, drink, dress, etc.) were incredibly repetitive. I found myself slogging through the last half, and I wanted more Dracula. I also gave it 3/5.

    • Yes! There was a lot of repetition. I think I blocked part of that out. I think a lot of the information should have been cut and more Dracula and better vampire stuff should have been added. It took me a lot longer than I expected to read and it was a struggle, even though I mainly enjoyed it. I can’t wait to read all of your thoughts!

  3. I had sort of mixed feelings about this one too. It’s one of those books where I liked the idea more than the execution. I didn’t care at all about the vampire angle. I never really connected to the characters. The book really could have been about anyone else and it wouldn’t have made a difference, because what I liked was the history of it. The idea that history is alive, that it’s in the present as well as the past, that things you thought were long gone are catching up with you, and that studying in libraries and archives is the only way to even the playing field. That part of it was all very exciting to me… the details of the story itself, less so.

    • I totally agree that the idea was better than the execution! I actually liked the characters, but I still wanted more from the book and story. I had a little interest in the vampire angle, or at least the history behind it, but for the most part I thought it was pretty useless. I definitely loved the history! I’m studying history and would love to work in archives or a museum, so those ideas are really exciting to me, too! The thrill of discovery and learning that most of the characters had, I definitely connected with that.

  4. I’m glad you liked this one, although you liked it nowhere near as much as I did! It’s one of my favourite books and one of the few books that I’ve actually reread. And I’d love to visit some of the places mentioned in it, especially Istanbul.

  5. Pingback: Goodbye October! [recap] | a blighted one

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