Classic Monsters: Vampires in Kostova’s The Historian

Historian

On the side of it, in the deepest flesh on the muscular throat, were two brown scabbed puncture marks. Not fresh, but not fully healed, as if he had been stabbed by twin thorns, or mutilated at knife points. I stepped back from the table, thinking I had lost my mind with all my morbid readings, that I’d actually come unhinged, but the daylight was quite ordinary. The man in his dark wool suit perfectly real, down to the smell of unwash and perspiration and… something else, under his cologne. Nothing disappeared or hanged. I couldn’t drag my eyes from those two half-healed little wounds. After a few seconds he turned back from the absorbing view as if satisfied with what he had seen, or what I had, and smiled again. “For your own good, Professor.”

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian is a multi-generational horror novel about the hunt for Dracula. The unnamed narrator, a teenage girl at the time, finds a series of letters and books in her father’s library. She asks her father, Paul about the letters and he cautiously tells the story of his own hunt for a vampire Dracula, and the hunt of his college advisor, Bartholomew Rossi, before him.

Normally, I like a little bit of a spin on classic monsters, but The Historian managed to make quite traditional vampires as frightening as ever. They are strong and intelligent and seem to be everywhere, and this invulnerability is what makes them so frightening. Without giving too much away, I can still say that Dracula himself is of course featured in The Historian, and he specifically has a certain irresistibility true to the original character. It felt so true to his essence and to the nature of the book itself that I can’t help but wonder how the vampires of popular modern fiction have become the way that they are. Dracula in The Historian is ancient and powerful, and his irresistibility is a mystical quality rather than a sexual one. I loved the way that The Historian demonstrates the many years that stand between the main characters of the novel and Vlad Dracul’s original lifetime, all of the vampiric folklore of Vlad’s homeland, and what that meant for the action of the book.

The Historian is quite long and certainly slow, but I still stayed invested throughout the whole book. I think much of that is due to the development of relationships throughout the book – that between the narrator and Barley, Paul and Helen, and Rossi and Helen’s mother. The quick flashes of violence and surprise were well distributed between the slow burn of romance and historical research, and so much of this book was based on real history and geography that I felt like I learned quite a bit even while enjoying the rich internal development of the characters. Of course, readers that want a fast-paced adventure novel may struggle a little with The Historian, but there was so much to discover among the pages of books that any true book lover is bound to appreciate it as a book lover’s paradise.

I would expect no less from a book called The Historian, but the incredible range of history and culture that this book presents is mind-blowing. The characters travel across the globe, moving in America, England, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, France, and Turkey, and each place reveals the lives of its residents. Before reading The Historian, I knew very little about Turkey, but now I feel as though I have lived through the Turkish invasions. Each culture was approached respectfully, and I loved the details about how Islamic vampire prevention differed from Christian vampire prevention. Of course there was a great deal about Vlad’s real life and the murders he committed, and part of the horror of the book was imagining that a man that could do those terrible things might still be alive today.

In all, I will give The Historian a 9 out of 10. The history and the setting of this book is so vivid that I can’t help but feel that almost anyone that picks it up and is willing to wade through its 227,000 words will enjoy it.

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