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Book Review: The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova

This book was loaned to me while I was teaching at a university in The Netherlands and, I confess, if I’d known it was about vampires, I probably would never have opened it, for that was when Twilight had first taken hold on the global imagination and I was despairing of ever reading a gritty vampire book again – except for my annual re-reads of Stoker, that was.
One night, as the frigid winds of a Holland winter rattled the windows of where I was staying, and I was curled up on a couch with a glass of wine and a flickering candle to read by (really), I reluctantly began. The atmosphere of the tale gripped me immediately and, though it quickly revealed itself to be about THE Dracula, it was sans the tiresome sparkles and romance and, despite being a modern retelling, was steeped in history, place and folklore. It even had an academic in the tale – yeah, I was hooked. 

Using different points of view and different time periods, Kostova uses the premise of lost and forbidden research and the mystery of the main character’s father’s disappearance, to take the reader on a wild and thrilling search for Vlad the Impaler – also, in this book, Dracula. Place, whether it be Paris, Amsterdam, Venice or other fantastic European cities and far-flung villages steeped in superstition, are as important as the richly described cathedrals, libraries and densely wooded forests and pristine lakes that pop up in the story. They too are characters in this exciting and at times quite frightening tale of Dracula and one woman’s search for the truth. That I was lucky enough to visit, concomitant with reading about them, many of the sites Kostova describes in the novel, no doubt added a frisson to my enjoyment as did the fact that I am a huge fan of vampire narratives with bite.

This one has bite and more. It is original, dark, intriguing, genuinely scary and beautifully written. I will read it again before too much time has passed and relive my own travels as well as the search for the most famous of the Undead.

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