BOOK : On why I didn’t like Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian”

I’ve never thought that I would write a bad review to a book, but the time has come to do it. And it seems that this is the longest post in my blog.

As I’ve probably mentioned in one of my previous posts, this book was a gift from the Romanian RAO Publishing House from Bookfest 2014 (for those who don’t know what Bookfest is: it is a book fest – duh!).

I wouldn’t normally be interested or buy this kind of book because I hate when authors exploit our most prolific historical character (in this case, Vlad Ţepeş) and turn it into some blood sucking monster. I mean, come on! Our prince was sent away to live with the Turks at a young age, he saw his elder brother being tortured and buried alive; he saw the Turks crimes etc. These things affected him. When he returned to the throne at the age of 17, he discovered that his father was betrayed by nobility and had his head chopped off.

He then sought help to the Turks in defeating them and avenged his father’s death by calling all the noblemen and their families to a feast. He killed some on the spot or impaled them later. You might think he was cruel by killing their children too, but he was a man that saw the problem on long term (he was cruel, too). The children would’ve grown up to become stronger and vengeful. By killing them, he made sure he made sure they wouldn’t be a problem to his future family.

He had to be cruel. He was surrounded by kingdoms that wanted to conquer Valachia for good and steal its treasures. He didn’t back down. He lived in desperate times and he made sure he would be feared and made himself understood by killing the other countries messengers (many of them acted as the messengers in the movie “300”). Only few of them were spared, only because they knew how to address to him and when to be silenced.

He was a very just prince and he believed that his subjects had to be just too. He applied a series of punishments for those who committed all sorts of crimes and they were very bad, most of them ending impaling the outlaw.

All of these punishments that Vlad applied and assisted took their toll on him and he ended up overreacting and impaling everybody, even though they were only small crimes. His country, though, came to be the safest place on Earth. You could’ve let your bag full of coins in the middle of the street for days and no one would’ve picked it up. Everyone was afraid of him.

That was a good thing, though, for the country. No one wanted to mess up with him. The Turks were afraid of him. Once, he “planted” impaled bodies everywhere, from the Danube River to Târgovişte City, in order to make the fear grow in the Turkish hearts, burned the crops, and poisoned the wells so that the army would be weakened at its arrival. The Turks killed their horses, ate their meat and drank their blood to remain alive.

He ambushed the scout groups and took their armors. He let some barrels of wine in sight for the Turks. When the night came, they ambushed the Turkish camp, dressed in Turkish armors. The soldiers, being starved and drunk, they got confused and started killing each other. Half of the army died that way.

He was married three times and had 5 children. He didn’t want his children or any other children to be taken prisoners by the Turks. He had to do what was right at the time.

But enough with how awesome Vlad Ţepeş was! Let’s talk about Elizabeth Kostova’s book! I won’t write details about her (you can Google them) so I will get straight to the point. I didn’t like it! I mean, seriously? They chased “green horses on the walls” (that’s how we say in Romanian to “chasing the wild goose” or to “chase for the illusion”) the entire book to end up with nothing.

ATTENTION! SPOILERS AHEAD!

I mean, it all started when this Paul guy found a mysterious book in his stack at the library, having a dragon in it. Then, the COINCIDENCE, his professor had a similar book, and then, he disappeared.

Then, another COINCIDENCE, he found a young lady, Helen Rossy, who was actually the daughter of the disappeared professor, which he never recognized. Her mom was Romanian and abandoned by the professor when he found out about her pregnancy (what a douche!).

They start “chasing green horses on the walls” in the entire Eastern Europe and Turkey. They discover an actual big pile of sh*t. The COINCIDENCE makes it that they are found by a Turkish history professor, in a coffee shop, that also has a similar book and he is a part of an organization that works for the long time dead sultan, whose job is to annihilate Dracula. He sends them to Hungary, where, COINCIDENCE, Helen’s aunt is actually the Foreign Affairs Minister and helps them have a lot of privileges in a socialist and minimalist country. As a COINCIDENCE, they find an English/American professor, who has a similar book. And again, the COINCIDENCE, Helen, discovers she is actually the granddaughter of Vlad the Impaler to whom they refer as Dracula, “the Son of the Dragon” (it actually means “the Devil” in Romanian, but what do I know?).

They have a lot of phone conversations with the Turkish professor Bora (which is odd, because a phone call between Hungary and Turkey would’ve been very expensive at the time or even impossible), who, COINCIDENCE, discovers just now, and not in years of hard research, that some monks traveled to Bulgaria, one year after Vlad died, carrying a bizarre cargo, accompanied by a weird poem. They have to return to Turkey to discuss the matter with professor Bora.

They deduce, with the power of their brilliant minds that the cargo was Vlad’s body, that they were taking to reunite with the head and turn him into vampire (I was literally going to write “Batman” :)) ). Bora sends them to Bulgaria, to find Dracula’s tomb and end the evil for good. That is awkward, considering the fact that Bora presented himself as a soldier at the service of the sultan, trying to kill Vlad. He didn’t do anything, nor the other members of the order, preferring to let two young students to risk their lives hunting a creature that the order couldn’t hunt in 500+ years.

He sends them to meet another history professor, whose name I don’t recall, but can’t do much thing alone because of the national communist security. The two are accompanied by a strange character that seems to become very fond of the Bulgarian professor’s niece.

And they try to discover the churches that were built in the time of Vlad Tepes and find a very old lady that sings to them a very bizarre song about Saint George killing the dragon (the way she is portrayed I think she was drunk all the time, considering the rakia), and, COINCIDENCE, the celebration of Saint George’s holiday is exactly spot on and they attend it, discovering, as a COINCIDENCE, a very old icon, suggesting a connection with the ancient church.

What a COINCIDENCE that exactly that was the church with the tomb they were looking for, and it was still standing up. So, they didn’t have to scout all the churches and make the security suspicious.

They enter the altar, because the church was not guarded at the time, obviously, and break into its basement easily, to discover some graves, in one of them being the professor who was a vampire now, but who has managed to write some details of the last days he spent with Vlad Tepes. It seemed that the name of the book is strictly connected with the figure of Vlad, who has a huge affinity for books of all types, and a huge library that he moves from one place to another.

It looks like Vlad still wears old fashioned clothes and hasn’t adapted to the new ones. I wish he had. I mean, why not? I would’ve loved to read about a super hot, sexy, ex-Valachian prince, who has an awesome underground bungalow, an expensive black convertible car, super fashionable wardrobe, with dark jeans and hair gel, and a XXL double bed, covered in red and black silk sheets. Why does he have to wear clothes like in the 1400’s, to live in some dark, primitive place and sleep in a stone coffin? Why? Kostova, use your imagination!

The book says that Vlad kidnapped Rossy to make the inventory of his collection. Why? He already sorted the books out. Couldn’t he have done the job himself in 500+ years?

Then, the story interrupts, after they find out Vlad’s moved his library again, at the sense of danger. They go back to Turkey, to professor Bora and tell him what they found out, and return to their normal lives in America, to get married and have a child, only that Helen falls into a deep breakdown, that only a trip to France can cure.

So, they go to France and Helen seems to get better, only that Helen falls of a cliff and no one finds her. She is later found, after she attempts to discover by herself Dracula and keep her family protected for many, many years. She believes that Dracula is after her. She forgets her daughter is Vlad’s grandchild too.

How could she find him, when he has allies all over the world? And why would Vlad try to kill his grandchildren? What changes brings to the book the fact they are Vlad’s grandchildren? NOTHING. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. THIS PART WASN’T EXPLOITED AT ALL BY KOSTOVA.

And there’s the daughter, who travels to Southern France with a stranger student she trusts and are followed by a strange person in the train, who is, obviously, a becoming vampire. KOSTOVA LOSES THE STRANGER SOMEWHERE ON THE ROAD. And the two have sex, in a small room. Just like that. Only knowing each other only for 2 days. The first time, I believe. The scene is well described by Kostova, but the first time pain isn’t. I won’t ask why, I am just saying. Gush! *sigh* She didn’t do a sh*t either.

Paul and Helen kiss too, on a bridge in Hungary. A lame kiss, that didn’t make me feel anything. It happened too fast and no emotion described. Paul asked her to marry him after only two weeks of knowing each other. What can I say? Good lovers in this family and very practical.

All the characters are the same. They don’t have other features to differentiate them from each other, except for the physical ones.

I got bored reading this book. I carried it with me for more than a month, only reading it in the subway. It had parts that captivated me, but also parts that bored me to death. Too many coincidences and a very sad ending.

PROs: Kostova has talent. She describes scenes and actions very well. I wish she could put more value on her talent, exploit it more and pay attention to details. I love that she dug up the history and wrote some true facts about him. She forgot to mention that Vlad was forced by the circumstances to act like that and that his personality has been shaped by all the events he witnessed. I mentioned some in the post. 

It is about all the coincidences in the book that made it lose its flavor. 

I will not reread. I will not recommend. Only 2 points given on Goodreads, for PRO's.



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