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Book Review: The Historian

Lisa Johansen

Upon its release, Elizabeth Kostova's debut novel The Historian was hyped as the "Dracula Code," as if it could be compared to The DaVinci Code. Unfortunately, The Historian lacks the suspense and quick story progression. It is a great story lost in a sea of long-winded description.

Ten years in the making, The Historian tells a story that spans multiple centuries, beginning with Vlad the Impaler, the 13th century ruler of Wallachia and Transylvania. It is narrated by an unnamed 16-year-old who finds a cache of letters in her father's library all addressed to "My dear and unfortunate successor…" Upon reading the letters, the narrator slowly begins to unravel the maze of secrets that is her family's past. Her father, Paul, began a search for Dracula after the disappearance of his mentor, but ended his search upon meeting his future wife. When her father disappears, it is time for the narrator to pick up where her father left off.

Dracula is a character everybody knows; his story has been told by everyone from Bram Stoker to Bela Lugosi, but none of them has had the realistic nature of Kostova's.

The book is mostly fiction, containing the lone historical figure Vlad, but Kostova presents it so that the story seems completely plausible. Although there is no factual evidence that Vlad the Impaler is the true Dracula, Kostova's presentation of Vlad makes a convincing argument that he was, and that is what makes the book thrilling.

For a first novel, The Historian is amazingly well-researched and detailed. However, for every useful description, there are paragraphs of unnecessary ones. Through the narrative, the characters travel between Romania, Istanbul, the United States to name a few.

If Kostova stuck to the main narrative and left out the smaller details, the book may have gained some of the snappiness of The DaVinci Code.