DRACULA AS LITERATURE
by Elizabeth Kostova, 2005
This is more like it...
"The Historian" is the tale of a father and daughter drawn together, not so much by love but by fear. It's the tale of a hidden secret, not one but two secret societies, and the danger that comes from learning about them.
And the book is about Dracula, so the heroes of this book had better learn about that hidden secret before it's too late. The Dracula of this book is the Wallachian despot, Vlad III, known as the Impaler. But like the Dracula of Bram Stoker's novel, he's a vampire.
The story is told primarily at three points of time: 1972-74, 1954, and 1930. These are the stories of the daughter, her father, and the father's professor. As the book unfolds, we see exactly how these characters are intertwined and how they become destined to play the roles they do.
As a horror fan, I'm of course intrigued by anything relating to Dracula. However, perhaps the greatest appeal of "The Historian" is as a travelogue. The reader gets to experience many interesting sights in Europe, from London and Istanbul, to Budapest and Sofia, along with locations connected with Vlad the Impaler: Poenari Castle (Vlad's castle) and Snagov Monastery (Vlad's tomb). Kostova's descriptions of various libraries and monasteries makes them come alive.
But it's not just a travelogue. There are mysteries to be solved and plot twists and constant danger. The Cold War and the paranoia it created are captured perfectly—the heroes can't just hop on a plane and go wherever they like to stop Dracula's schemes. Indeed, the rivalry between the two regimes play into Dracula's hands.
There seems to be at least one annoying coincidence, or oversight, built into the story. Dracula and his evil society that seeks to protect his secrets has left several clues laying around, even after having five hundred years to eliminate those clues. And it's not like they are unaware of the clues. In fact, they have the curious habit of delivering a certain book into the hands of the heroes, impelling them to start looking into Dracula's secret!
This book has been criticized for being slow, and it does unfold at a leisurely pace. But that is one of the charms of "The Historian", not a detriment. It's not for the ADD crowd.
Having said that, I would also say that the action ping-pongs between the three time periods just a little more often than I like. It's a trifle annoying and potentially confusing—but not enough that anyone should not read the book. Still, if "The Historian" is ever made into a movie, I'm sure the producers will cut back on so many scene-shifts.
I love the book, but the ending could have been more dramatic and more horrifying. SPOILER: If the heroine's mother had been turned into a vampire, that makes a much better motivation for faking her death—after all, a vampire's first victims are her close family members. Yet this is the book's only shortcoming. Even with that ending, "The Historian" leaves the reader with a confirmation of the immortality of Dracula.