This is the story of how as a girl of sixteen, I went in search of my father and his past, and of how he went in search of his beloved mentor and his mentor’s own history, and of how we all found ourselves on one of the darkest pathways into history.
It opens simply and sometimes the simplest way is the best approach and foundation to an epistolary epic. From the first few words, it bolsters the extensive mammoth which is The Historian; a 909-paged debut novel written by American author Elizabeth Kostova. It is difficult to ignore and perhaps one of the most entertaining and enthralling post modern non-horror vampire story.
It will be most appealing to those who wish to revisit the tasty classic Gothic vampire (the kind that doesn’t glitter in the sunlight) fiction. Here, we meet the standard heroes who are garlic-toting travel addicts. Our villains on the other hand, are scared of the cross and sun but has a potent force to instigate utter fear and chaos.
The thing that most haunted me that day, however, as I closed my notebook and put my coat on to go home, was not my ghostly image of Dracula, or the description of impalement, but the fact that these things had – apparently – actually occurred. If I listened too closely, I thought, I would hear the screams of the boys, of the ‘large family’ dying together. For all his attention to my historical education, my father had neglected to tell me this: history’s terrible moments were real. I understand now, decades later, that he could never have told me. Only history itself can convince you of such a truth. And once you’ve seen that truth really seen it – you can’t look away.
Our protagonist: Academics. Our antagonist: Dracula. It follows the recounting of a father and daughter’s dark meanderings after discovering a textless vellum. From here, they are torn apart by the need to find the truth in the disappearance of the people they care for and the cruel fate they’ve been forced into. We read vicious but clever events that stretch from Amsterdam, Budapest, Istanbul, Bulgaria and Philadelphia.
Although this is no Bram Stoker, looking at it via birds eye view can give you an idea that this is about exploring the infamous impaler of the 15th century; after his death and the disappearance of his body. It also puts together a great travelogue – like looking at old moving pictures – and detective story.
While I paced through The Historian, it came to me that this is a vampire equivalent of The Da Vinci Code. Which mostly means: facts, fiction, passports and melee. The thought played casually in my head, perhaps due to its primary genre which is thriller/ suspense. There isn’t much Bram Stoker-ish incidents in here but there is more than enough scare and blood for you to feel the need to flip its pages as your heart quickens with excitement. Suffice to say, it was difficult to put down. It was also very appealing that the novel provided memoirs and letters that offered personal and heartfelt considerations.
Upon realizing that this is about Vlad Tepes (or more famously known for his fictitious equivalent, Dracula), I’ve managed my expectations thinking it would be heavily laced with violence, hedonism and plenty of bitting. However, given that the character’s POV is purely academic, the plot is treated subjectively and if anything, it was outright intelligent. But note that the handful of frightening outcomes of certain events and seemingly harmless nights stimulate lingering fear and a dash of passion.
Despite its several mention of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Historian runs full steam with its own weight. And although Kostova has a flare for Victorian style of writing, she never loses her readers. She unceremoniously brings them along by intermingling research, intrigue and the occult. She also has a way of setting danger on a sort of foreplay that leaves you guessing if she will finally provide a climax or not. And if she ever does, there is a careful calculation of recant so you stay until she is ready to end the story.
It may be safe to say that it’s a timeless contemporary of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which concludes both triumphantly and sadly. But one thing is for sure, The Historian is a notch (or two) smarter than Ann Rice’s vampires. A must read for fang fans.
Written By Elizabeth Kostova
Published by Little Brown in 2005