Review: The Historian

Posted 3 August, 2008 by Li in Books / 0 Comments

The Historian
By: Elizabeth Kostova

The premise of this story follows a quest throughout Europe surrounding the legend of Vlad the Impaler, otherwise known as Dracula. Three separate stories are interwoven throughout this novel, one set in the 1930s following a young Rossi, the second set in the 1950s following the graduate student Paul and the last story is grounded in “present time” (the 1970s). I don’t read a lot of vampire books, but Vlad the Impaler as a historical figure is one that I haven’t really read up a lot on so I thought the premise of the story was interesting, that and the fact that I don’t know much about Eastern European history.

Reading this book, I can tell that Kostova had put a lot of research into this novel, which is appreciative especially for readers with a history slant. (Note (April 2016): I’m editing my links at the moment and noticed that this paragraph seems to be missing most of its content. Alas.)

As a novel and a story however I thought there could have been a lot more improvements made. Simply put, I thought the story lacked some “oomph”, a bit of that adrenaline rush that make books of this genre exciting and thrilling (a la Steve Berry). The first part of the novel in particular was especially slow and only picked up about halfway. Another issue I had about the novel was the narrative; the book is written from first-person POV that happens to switch back and forth depending on which strand of the story you’re reading (in essence, Kostova pulled a “Wuthering Heights”; at one point, I had no idea that the narrative switched from his daughter to Paul’s). But unlike other first person narratives, you never really get a sense of the characters and how they’re really feeling. I found myself reading through the book and not really sympathizing for any particular character save for Barley, and his role wasn’t major in the novel at all. I remember one reviewer saying that the prose was like being transported back to a 19th-century style of narrative, but I politely disagree with that statement; I thought the narrative could’ve used a shake up to make the story more invigorating.

The plot itself, while interesting enough to keep me reading, suffered at parts due to the pace. There were moments that I found very interesting and really became a page-turner, but then it would be followed by some really face-flat moments. Although it picked up halfway and the ending resolved some mysteries that were laid out throughout, I didn’t find it satisfying at all; it felt like something was massively missing in the build-up of the story—after all, this novel was classified as a suspense/thriller.

While I appreciate the atmosphere of the novel and the history and the Eastern European cities mentioned and described throughout the novel, which was awesomeness (and the primary reason why I picked it up to begin with), the novel overall wasn’t as pumped up as all those reviews were saying. I don’t downright hate the novel or anything, but I feel that it could’ve been a lot better. Maybe it might take a second read for it to grow on me, I don’t know.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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