BookBrowse Reviews The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Historian

by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2005, 656 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2006, 688 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


Exotic locales, tantalizing history, a family legacy and a love of the bloodthirsty. 1st Novel

From the book jacket: 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.

What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world? Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed—and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends?

Comment: The Historian, described by Salon as a 'hypnotic yarn, saturated in authentic history and eerie intrigue', was predicted to be one of the big books of 2005 - and it was.  Although the subject matter (vampires and the like) would normally classify a book into the horror genre, The Historian is not a particularly scary read (in reference to her novel, Kostova says, "I promised myself that only a cup of blood would be spilled.)  Instead, the book is steeped in historical and anthropological detail..  Certainly there are many moments of tension and an overwhelming sense of impending dread, but Kostova doesn't stoop to the methodology used by so many modern thriller writers - short chapters, each ending with a breathless cliff-hanger forcing the pulse-rate up and, more often than not, the credibility down.  Instead we get a challenging, substantial novel that many serious readers will love. 

Kostova leads us on an intellectual quest across Eastern Europe in the 1930s, '50s and '70s, and also further back in time to the heights of the Ottoman Empire when Vlad the Impaler was famed as a brilliant military leader and defender of his people against the Turks, but also notorious as the slaughterer of more than 20,000 of his own people by appalling sadistic means.

Inevitably some reviewers compare The Historian to The Da Vinci Code - not that the two books have much in common, but simply because every book published in the past couple of years that explores controversial parts of history has had to bear comparison to Brown's book.  In writing style The Da Vinci Code and The Historian could not be more different.  However, they do have one thing in common, both extrapolate historical facts and hearsay into compelling fiction - the difference is that, as one reviewer puts it, The Historian is like a fine Burgundy to The Da Vinci Code's over-caffeinated diet Coke; also while they both explore areas of controversy, The Historian is likely to upset far fewer people and stand up to critical inspection better than The Da Vinci Code - after all, how many people out there are going to complain about Vlad the Impaler being misrepresented!

As Publishers Weekly says, "Exotic locales, tantalizing history, a family legacy and a love of the bloodthirsty: it's hard to imagine that readers won't be bitten, too!"

This review was originally published in June 2005, and has been updated for the October 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Rules of Magic
    The Rules of Magic
    by Alice Hoffman
    Alice Hoffman's Rules of Magic is the long-awaited prequel to one of her most cherished novels,...
  • Book Jacket: Good Me Bad Me
    Good Me Bad Me
    by Ali Land
    Is a psychopath born or made? This is the terrifying question that author Ali Land explores in her ...
  • Book Jacket: Five-Carat Soul
    Five-Carat Soul
    by James McBride
    In the short story "Sonny's Blues," from the 1965 collection Going to Meet the Man, African-...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

An eye-opening and riveting look at how how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Seven Days of Us
    by Francesca Hornak

    A warm, wry debut novel about a family forced to spend a week together over the holidays.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Wisdom of Sundays

The Wisdom of Sundays
by Oprah Winfrey

Life-changing insights from super soul conversations.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A Good M I H T F

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.