Ramblings from the Desert

The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either. ~Benjamin Franklin

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Location: New Mexico

Author of the urban fantasy novel, The Music of Chaos, and the paranormal romance, The Canvas Thief.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Historian


The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is a book only an historian could love.

The premise is Dracula, which is apropos because this is the book that wouldn't f-ing die. I read and I read and I read and there were always hundreds of pages left.

The story begins when unnamed teenage girl finds an ancient book and a mysterious group of letters in her father's office. Her father is an historian, working as a diplomat in Europe. As the story progresses, her father reluctantly begins to tell her how he came to possess the book and that it is proof that Dracula, a.k.a., Vlad the Impaler, is still undead and kicking.

Given the bad press in BlogLand, I was surprised when I actually enjoyed the first two hundred pages of The Historian. The writing is erudite, but not dense, and the description lovely. In the early pages, Dracula lurks in the background, stalking the protagonist and her father with a quiet menace.

Then the father disappears suddenly, struck by a sudden desire to find the girl's mother, a woman I thought was dead. Eh? At this point, the novel turns into a dissertation on medieval Ottoman and Eastern European politics.

Like Tolkien's Silmallarion--The Historian is world-building disease laid bare. Kostova builds a meticulous case for Dracula's existence and his identity as Vlad Tepes The Impaler. The exposition is told as dialogue, through letters, and through "historical documents." In one case, the story of a monk, the documents are so realistic that they include a loooong literature review discussing sources and sources of sources; followed by a testimonial by the monk as to his identity; and finally followed by the monk's story. Ironically, another character has just relayed the monk's same story. All those trees died for so much repetition.

Told largely in multiple flashbacks, the narrative moves from time to time, and location to location. By about page 350, I realized I'd forgotten--if I ever knew--what the hell they all were looking for. (The location of Dracula's tomb, apparently.)

As for Dracula, he is more like Dracula Defanged. In all, the bodies can be counted on one hand. Heck, smoking kills more people than this Dracula. After the first 200 pages, he all but disappears from the narrative. If the Bush Administration had put this much effort into finding Osama, a real menace and killer, he'd be getting his dialysis in San Quentin.

OTOH, Deus ex Machina and other contrivances run amuck in the novel. The ending is anticlimactic to say the least.

If you love digging around in historical documents or have an interest in the medieval politics of Eastern Europe, this is the book for you.

Otherwise...fuggetaboutit.

[Side note: When I told the Husband that this book scored Kostova a million dollar advance, he said, "Who'd she sleep with and can we get you on the list?"]

 

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