If you're in the mood for a beautifully written, macabre tale of the supernatural, told with remarkable attention to detail and grounded in exemplary scholarship, then look no further than Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian.
This modern retelling of the Dracula legend was an instant best-seller when it debuted in 2005, and for good reason. Kostova has traveled extensively in the lands she describes in the novel, and her vivid descriptions of the sights, sounds, and scents of these settings effortlessly transport her readers from Jugendstil cafes in Vienna and Budapest to the bustling streets of Istanbul, and finally to dank, moldering subterranean crypts where true horrors lie in wait.
The novel depicts a hunt for the truth of Dracula and asks where the historical figure Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, merges with the vampire of nightmare and legend. This hunt ranges across thousands of miles as the novel's protagonists, scholars all, track the often terrifying clues that lead them every closer to their immortal quarry. This search does not go unnoticed, however, and dark forces dog our narrators' steps and threaten their lives at every turn.
Anyone who has every spent too many hours pouring over moldering tomes in the dusty corners of some university library will find shivers aplenty in The Historian, where books open doors to enormous dangers and lead their readers into the cursed existence of the undead.
As I read this novel for the first time, I couldn't help but remember my hours in the Rare Books Room at Princeton, studying medieval manuscripts and trying to fathom the devotion that guided the creators of the elaborate wood-cuts and illuminated pages.
What if I had looked up from the faded vellum manuscript to catch a fleeting glimpse of a dark, menacing figure vanishing into the shadows of the library stacks? What if by choosing to read a particular long-forgotten volume, I had attracted the attention of someone, something, that preferred to remain hidden? Ooh, the goosebumps!
The film rights to The Historian were sold even before the book debuted, but I encourage you to read the book now, before some vacuous Hollywood starlet is cast in the film to appeal to 18 year old boys. No film, no matter how skillfully directed, could hope to match the delightful nuance and real horror that Kostova sustains throughout her expansive and exceptionally well crafted novel.
If vampires lurking in libraries aren't your thing, well, I guess there's always something less challenging yet equally terrifying that one could pick up.
Reading with every light in the house ablaze,