The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Book Review by Edward Astill

Since the birth of the iconic character in 1897 – when Bram Stoker’s famous work was first published – Dracula has grown to an acclaim few other dark creatures could ever attain.

Countless imitations and books have latched onto the Dracula figure; novels, short stories, research articles, documentaries, lashings of kitsch items, all popularising the undead and pushing it into the headlights of the masses.

In an age of Twilight and Buffy fandom, how can the original, more sinister vampire of folklore and gothic horror keep its foot in the door of the modern zeitgeist?

Enter Elizabeth Kostova with her first novel The Historian. On the surface, you could label it just another piece of fan fiction. However, start to read the story and the in-depth plot Kostova expertly weaves, and your mind may begin to see this book as something different.

The story begins with a young woman finding the letters and correspondences of her scholarly father, an unassuming bookish man. Looking through various manuscripts, she gains not only revelations about her father and family history, but about the darkness that lurks in the world – a terror her father experienced in his youth. Ultimately, she discovers the true story of the Dark Prince Vlad the Impaler, Dracula.

This is a book not to be confused with fan fiction of any kind. It is an intellectual, complex, vivid, page-turning and mystifying work. Kostova has written a clever, well-researched piece of literary grace that delves into the detail of history, fear and the unseen workings of the world. The Historian rips away the clock face of the normal in order to see the black cogs that tick on in the underbelly of human civilisation.

Personally, it seems this book might be aimed at those in-the-closet intellectuals who like to sit down with a book and enjoy the pictures, the characters, the knowledge and the gorgeous locations the words project into the inner mind. It certainly is a book you feel has improved you in some way and with any luck may encourage a read of Kostova’s other work, The Swan Thieves.

Kostova is a woman with, it seems, a great tapestry of the knowledge of writing, culture, books and the world. This is a book with style, both smooth and sleek, but it is also dark and mysterious, something like the duality of human nature.


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