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The Historian

The old staple characters of horror like Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula were fantastic creations which caught the public imagination and enflamed the genre for years. Even today there are books based on these classic horror tales and one such example is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

This is modern re-imagining of Dracula as a young woman begins to investigate a murky and little told history. The gripping narrative sucks you right in with the young girl discovering a mysterious letter in her father’s library. It alludes to some kind of terrible secret and immediately elicits her curiosity, and by proxy, that of the reader.

The book was released in 2005 and it is an odd mixture of genres. Despite the subject being Dracula, or at least Vlad the Impaler, the book is more creepy and eerie than outright horror. The various narratives weave together a historical tale told from the perspective of the young girl, her father and his mentor. Upon researching the history of the Dracula myth they find there is in fact some alluring truth to the idea and travelling to various locations they are able to uncover evidence that the man really existed and more that he still exists. The lingering threat is that he doesn’t appreciate being investigated and by doing so they might capture his unwelcome attention.

As the narrator travels and investigates we are treated to a patched together history of the period during which Vlad the Impaler built his terrible reputation. Kostova has done a decent amount of research and the history makes for interesting reading. The resulting book is a chilling historical thriller but it lacks an edge to make it outright horror and for me it has a crushingly disappointing final few chapters.

Kostova was lucky enough to spark a bidding war for the book despite the fact it was her first novel and thanks to a lot of media coverage and promotion it made the bestsellers list on release. While it is an engaging, well written novel and Kostova has a real talent for painting locations and piecing together an investigative narrative it is also somewhat ponderous and fails to surprise with revelations. The history of Eastern Europe and the story of Vlad are undeniably interesting and the connection of Vlad III with the Dracula myth is very well handled.

Sony already bought the film rights so we can expect it to be adapted for the screen at some stage. The book has managed to capture a number of awards and while it initially sucked me in the voracious page turning soon slowed down as it petered out towards a lacklustre ending. This book would be ideal for fans of ghost stories who want a slight chill down the spine as they read but would rather avoid real scares or shocks. There’s no denying it is a clever way to breathe new life into the Dracula character but it is impossible not be disappointed with the latter stages of the book.