Vlad Drakulya & the Historian
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
In 2005, this book was an international bestseller – so claimed. I read it with great interest in those three weeks and thought that the story was fabulously intriguing and wonderfully told then. I still do to some extend, to be honest. However, when some fellow readers in my book club discredited it as unworthy of its acclaim, I decided to read it again. And to my surprise I tend to agree with some of the ‘not-so-good’ reviews myself now.
Okay this is a fictional historical yarn. Let’s just look at it for that sake and give Elizabeth Kostova the credit where it’s due. After all she is an intelligent woman, an undergraduate of Yale and holds a Master of Fine Arts degree. To contrive this tale of Vlad Tepes, aka Drakulya (Dracula) from historical facts and presumptions, does take a certain IQ level indeed.
She did a very good job writing the story the way that she did. The thing she didn’t do very well is write it with the kind of style and guile required for the danger and mystery that her story deserved. Her narration failed to grip me like the way Bram Stoker did in his classic ‘Dracula’ so to speak.
Also the plot was reasonably simple and Kostova stretched it a bit too thin I felt. Although she explained the Byzantine and Ottoman connections with Wallachia and Vlad Tepes’s excursions to thwart Sultan Mehmed II‘s strong hold in the outer edges of his Ottoman Empire – Vlad’s domain; she did not try to theorize Vlad’s vampire origins in detail. Yes, all these other elaborations were important for the book but Prince Drakulya should have had his story told a bit more too for the story’s sake. Alas, he came into the scene at the final fringes of the story and somewhat wasn’t given the due respect by the author to make his defense.
Ironically the only time ‘The Historian’ was truly gripping was when the Dark Prince appeared in his underground lair to meet the beleaguered Mr. Rossi – that part kept me entranced and I hoped for some more. Unfortunately, while Kostova portrayed Lord Drakulya well in all his devilish royal demeanor here, she frustratingly short-lived this enchantment as well.
In the end, I can understand why readers’ had mixed reactions towards ‘The Historian’. It had so much promise but failed to deliver decisively. There were good moments in some parts no doubt; like the recounting of Brother Kiril’s perilous journey and Professor Rossi’s letters to Paul but they were mere flashes of brilliance in what turned out as a very labored effort at a clever storyline.
All said, ‘The Historian’ isn’t your everyday horror thriller. As the author explained in her interview, “the book was an exploration of ‘Evil’ brought about due to the religious conflict between the Christian West and Islamic East”.
If that was the case, she should have written a story based on that core subject instead of using ‘Dracula’ as the central theme then. As I see it, there were plenty of other real and wicked tyrants around during the medieval era to justify the ‘evil’ as opposed to a mythical blood-sucker called Vlad The Impaler.
The book was interesting but not magical; sadly.