Alyce from At Home With Books features one of her favorite reads each Thursday and this week my pick is…
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
From the inside cover: Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters are all addressed to “My dear and unfortunate successor,” and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of — a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history.
The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known — and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out. It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula. Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself — to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive.
What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world? Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed — and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends? The answers to these questions cross time and borders, as first the father and then the daughter search for clues, from the dusty Ivy League libraries to Istanbul, Budapest, and the depths of Eastern Europe. In city after city, in monasteries and archives, in letters and in secret conversations, the horrible truth emerges about Vlad the Impaler’s dark reign — and about a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive down through the ages.
Parsing obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions — and evading the unknown adversaries who will go to any lengths to conceal and protect Vlad’s ancient powers — one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and confrontation with the very definition of evil.
My thoughts: I’m currently re-reading this book for The Historian Read Along, and even though I’m only a few pages in, I’m remembering just how much I liked this book, which of course is what led it to be my pick this Thursday.
It’s a slow book so while the description above may give the impression of people running fleetingly across Europe and dashing through the stacks at the library, no such luck. It feels more like a running conversation with a meandering story told in between. I don’t mean that the book is boring; it’s more a gradual build toward suspense than action. The story itself is about research and the depths that historians go to for original sources. If one is looking for the beginning of the vampire legend, one must look in dark places and both the father and the daughter do that here.
What I like most about this book is the almost hushed tones in which it’s told as though the whole secret cannot, and must not, be revealed instantly but unwrapped at an almost imperceptible pace that keeps the suspense building until the end.
Kostova is a wonderful storyteller and when the father sits down to tell his daughter his story, you feel as if you’re the daughter and his hushed voice is for your ears only. It adds creepiness to the book that doesn’t ever leave as though you must vigilantly look over your shoulder each time you leave the house.
While bits of the story might feel rambling, I’m not bothered by it. I patiently wait it out until I’m once again pulled in. The language can also be somewhat flowery and over descriptive at times and can make the story feel heavy but it also fits with the dark backdrop.
If you’re interested in a vampire story that’s not all about bloodsucking hoards but a more a dark mystery, this one could be it.