The vampire novel done well is a rare find, but worth finding. In my experience, there are two types of vampire book: romance with fangs, and tales of predation. I much prefer the latter, and The Historian is one such.
At 700 pages, this book is no easy read. Set across three timelines, the narrative is like a rope, with many singular threads weaving together as a whole.
Long, and in places heavy, this book is redeemed by the fact that it is a rare thing: a tribute which pays genuine homage to the original.
For me, there’s no beating Dracula. Bram Stoker nailed it. He balanced sophistication with the sinister, and he made it look easy.
Kostova isn’t trying to be the neo-Stoker, however. She nods to the master, and takes us in a different direction. Namely, what if Count Dracula’s real-life inspiration, Vlad the Impaler, actually was a blood-drinking immortal?
Although it covers the gruesome history of this infamous nobleman, The Historian is not a gore-fest. It is creepy in a skulking, shadowy way that is hard to pinpoint. It won’t have you shuddering in revulsion, but it will make the back of your neck prickle, and the light seem fragile.
I did not expect great things from this novel. The cover, with its token spots of blood, was alarming for all the wrong reasons, and the lacklustre blurb made no promises, but I was recommended this book in good faith, and I am glad that I listened.
This novel is extremely plot-driven, but despite this there are some interesting characters, most notably the mysterious Helen, and the unnamed narrator’s father.
Whilst some of the book is quite dense, there are particularly brilliant scenes dispersed throughout, and the overall writing quality is excellent. Compared with the many vampire novels out there, The Historian is definitely a cut above average, and far removed from the dark fantasy romance genre (in which I have yet to find a book worth reading).
Love them or hate them, there’s no getting away from the vampire novel, but since its true that the vampire romance has had its moment, read Dracula, read The Historian, and meet a more intellectual class of bloodsucker.