By Elizabeth Kostova
Published by Little, Brown
on June 14, 2005
Cover image and synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
I read this book several years ago, before I had this blog. I don’t know what compelled me to pick it up and reread it recently, but I’m so glad I did!
I didn’t remember anything about this book (other than that I loved it), so it didn’t feel like a reread. It was like reading this book for the first time. It’s a big, chunky book (over 600 pages), but I was pulled into the story right away and read as quickly as I could.
I was so absorbed and engrossed in this story. I loved getting lost in it. I loved the characters, the jumps back and forth in time, the sense of history, the thirst for knowledge, and the way it could get quite dark at times. And come on, any story that starts with the discovery of a mysterious book is bound to captivate me!
I also loved delving into the history of Vlad the Impaler and the Dracula legend, and showing how historical figures who seem so imposing and unreal at times were, of course, real people. I love history, and I love the way this book brought history to life. Of course, it is fiction, so there are definitely some liberties taken here (I think we can all agree that vampires are not real), but I liked the way the fantastical and the historical were blended together.
I wouldn’t call this a horror story – it’s not scary, but it has some great moments of suspense and a couple of creepy scenes. Mostly it was like a historical bookish thriller mystery with a paranormal element, if that’s a thing.
The overriding thing that I took away from reading The Historian and from Kostova’s writing was the utter, absolute pleasure of language. Kostova has such a way with words, and I really felt such joy reading this book just from the act of reading. (I do recall that I read her second book, The Swan Thieves, not long after I first read The Historian and all I remember about it is that I did not love it…but I do have a copy of her most recent book, The Shadow Land, and I think I really need to bump that up my TBR).
The Historian was such a joy to read, and it was a reminder to me that rereading is a valuable, enjoyable activity. Highly recommended.