Book 19: The Historian

Vampires in literature have gone through the wringer over the past several years as authors have done their best to squeeze every last bit of creativity from the these undead monsters. Several young adult authors have taken the romantic approach with these supernatural creatures and have had quite a bit of success. However, in her debut novel, Elizabeth Kostova brings a sophisticated new spin to dark fantasy as her protagonists hunt Dracula himself around the world in search of revenge and to satisfy personal curiosity.

Legends tell how the infamous Vlad the Impaler conquered death and walks the earth centuries later. When a young girl finds a book in her fathers office, empty save for a dragon woodcut stamped on the middle pages, she finds herself drawn into the century old search for the Lord of the Undead. Stretching through out generations the search travels around the world to distinguish between truth and legend, always drawing closer to the evil they fear and yet yearn to find.

Disclaimer: this is a long book. Page wise it’s only six hundred and some pages but the context is dense. Consisting of detailed descriptions, a focus on cultural accuracy, and an immense quantity of research, Kostova creates a world every bit as much as ours with one stark difference: vampires are real.

I can easily say this book is a great novel but I wouldn’t go so far as recommend it to everyone. In literary discussions with my peers the general consensus is that reading is a hobby for mental pleasure and relaxation. This is not a book for a relaxed mind. Its description alone (not to mention the complex plot) requires the brain to be active and engaged so as to follow the twists and clues. This is the reason why I have been reading this book off and on for the past two months.

On an opinionated level I could see how the style of writing would deter a reader from finishing this book, but from a critical angle the book is a masterpiece. Certain ideas have more potential than others; concepts like political intrigue, historical searches, significant internal conflict, and deep philosophical theories and morals can create a deeper and more engaging story than your average novel. The complexity and fluid nature of the historical search through out this book is captivating and remarkable. The easiest way I have found to describe this book (which unfortunately does little to describe the grandeur of the content) is that it’s like National Treasure but with more vampires and less clues.

As a writer I read for enjoyment, for ideas, and to improve my internal B.S. detector. Reading this book has shown me how a complex idea is constructed to create a successful realistic world without giving convenient shortcuts. It is a dense book that may require slogging ahead through some dry informational areas as the characters delve into their research, but if you can read it to the end you won’t regret it. I didn’t.

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