Rated Reads

The Historian

by Elizabeth Kostova

Rated: Mild

The Historian is a novel that should satisfy readers of subtle horror and those of mysteries and suspense/thrillers. On its face, it is “about” Vlad the Impaler, known best to history as Dracula, or, more precisely, it is about the hunt several historians undertake to find him — and, they hope, to finally destroy him.

For those who aren’t horror fans, don’t fear; this really isn’t a horror novel. It centers around a man who did horrific things, but it contains very little that is graphic or truly horrifying. But the suspense certainly builds as several characters in the novel slowly circle ever so closer to their goal of killing Dracula — before he can kill them.

The novel contains the voices of three narrators, a woman who is relating her father’s words and letters from years before; the father, a diplomat and historian who is mysteriously drawn into a search for Dracula; and the father’s mentor, a well-known historian whose search for Vlad leads him to disaster.

Kostova plays out the tale in perfectly measured doses; vital pieces of the puzzle are revealed in perfect time as the reader delves ever more deeply into the novel and into the dark history of Vlad and of the region in which he lived more than 500 years ago. Kostova takes the reader from New York to the Netherlands, to Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and France, on a grand sightseeing tour that is a fascinating history lesson just as much as it is mystery and travelogue. The Historian is an absorbing novel that is meaty enough to be enjoyed over a period of weeks, and when it is over, the experience is truly missed.

Rated: Mild, for mild language and one or two uses of moderate language, and some descriptions of mild violent acts. A few sexual scenes are included but only use minor detail. (It should be noted that while Kostova could have used a lot of gore and violence, she chose to use it very sparingly. It is only on a few occasions that a paragraph is used to describe fairly briefly some of Vlad’s heinous crimes against his own people and those of his enemies.)

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

One Response to The Historian

  1. […] The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. Since this story is about Dracula, this could almost be considered a horror tale, but it really has more elements of what I consider gothic. That infamous vampire rarely appears in the book, and the story revolves around some historians who are trying to hunt him down in the mostly present day. The story takes readers on a wonderful and intense journey around the globe, into rooms filled with old books and documents, slowly revealing information and ending in a satisfying manner. I savored the journey and was sad when it was over. I was also sad when Kostova wrote another book and it wasn’t at all what I had hoped in tone or story (and THAT is probably why Diane Setterfield has turned Harper Lee on us). […]

  • The Historian
  • by Elizabeth Kostova
  • Rated: Mild
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: