Title: The Historian
Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Narrators: Joanne Whalley, Dennis Boutsikaris, Rosalyn Landor, Martin Jarvis, Robin Atkin Downes, Jim Ward
Audiobook Length: 26 hours, 5 minutes
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):
“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. Generations of historians have risked their reputations, their sanity, and even their lives to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler and 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 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 a confrontation with the very definition of evil.”
Thoughts: As a disclaimer, The Historian remains one of my all-time favorite novels. There is something about the cross between historical and Gothic fiction that forces me to keep reading this novel every other year or so. The added bonus of more on the Dracula myth is also a huge draw. Ms. Kostova’s ability to create pictures with words and to imbue the novel with a distinctly European spirit creates a novel that stands out from much of its peers, resulting in a novel that is as much fact-based as it is fiction, creepy, informative and absolutely fascinating.
Ms. Kostova does not try to recreate the Dracula legends. Rather, she manages to gather as much information about Vlad Dracula and the ensuing myths and legends about his supposed death and afterlife. With an extremely methodical approach, she covers Vlad’s life, death, and journey to a final resting place, all while leaving open the possibility that Vlad Dracula still walks the earth. It is this common-sense approach to the paranormal which gives The Historian its most potent power and creates the biggest scare factor.
The Historian is downright creepy. Ms. Kostova does not hide behind flashy magic or unbelievable stunts. Rather, she lets Vlad’s real-life evil deeds seep into the pages. From the very first sentence, the reader knows without a doubt that The Historian is going to be a dark novel, that a happily-ever-after may not exist, and that this is a thinking man’s horror novel. There is gore, and there is blood, but none of it is over the top or inappropriate for a given situation. The true horror lies in the mystique that still surrounds Vlad Tepes.
As an audio production, The Historian was one of the better ones. Being able to hear the different accents – Hungarian, Turkish, Romanian, Bulgarian, English, American – was pure pleasure. Being able to hear the correct pronunciations of various words – Targoviste, Arges, Mehmet, Tepes, and so many more – was even better. It allows the reader to bridge the gap of history and fiction by bringing to life the real-world locations visited throughout the novel. Each narrator embodies the individual character(s) s/he represents, making a clear delineation between all of the persons met along the journey. It was a great way to experience this novel with a fresh perspective.
The Historian is a must-read for any historical fiction fan, as well as anyone fascinated with either the myth or man behind the myth of Dracula. Ms. Kostova has an amazing talent for creating 3D images of locales with mere words, as well as using each word for maximum creepy effect. It is the perfect read for the season.
Acknowledgements: I purchased this from Audible.