The Historian


Elizabeth Kostova




Date Reviewed:

May 22, 2006

he Historian is rife with incredible coincidences and unbelievable plot twists, which I am about to describe - so major plot spoilers are in the forth coming paragraphs - if you are going to ignore my advice and read this woeful book, better stop reading this review.

At the beginning of novel, Rossi relates that he is examining ancient documents in Turkey, when he reads aloud "...say his name, and he will be there - Dracula!" Suddenly, a mysterious stranger enters the room, and warns Rossi to stop his research. My goodness, Dracula is alive! And he can be summoned simply by saying his name! But when Paul & Helen are in Turkey, reading a similar document, and someone speaks Dracula's name, it isn't Dracula who appears but the pseudo-vampire, the unnamed Librarian who wants to find Dracula's tomb. Later, Helen spends almost 20 years searching for clues to find where Dracula is hiding so she can confront and kill him - so why doesn't Helen just speak his name, and he will be there?

Dracula has printed up 1450 blank books, these books contain nothing but a crude map and the a woodcut with the word Dracula. He has passed these 1450 books out to libraries and scholars, hoping one of them will find his tomb. Yes, Dracula wants to be found, because that will prove the determined scholar is worthy of being Dracula's librarian. For 500 years, Dracula has been living in his tomb, reading books, longing for a librarian. He doesn't want to drink your blood, Dracula wants you to be his librarian! But no one has made it to the tomb. Perhaps after the first couple hundred years without a librarian, Dracula might realize that his strategy isn't working, and he ought to try something else? Or maybe he would realize that he has gone without a librarian for a few hundred years, so maybe he doesn't need one after all? And why is he spending all this time in his mouldering tomb reading books, we learn that Dracula has grown strong enough that he can spend time out in direct sunlight. So why doesn't Dracula go out and DO something?

Despite the fact Dracula wants a librarian to find his tomb, he actively discourages any one from succeeding. Indeed, when Rossi has been investigating in Romania, he learns some clues, and falls in love. But Rossi has to go to Greece for research, and while in Greece, a mysterious stranger (guess who) shows up and hands Rossi a drink named "Amnesia" - which Rossi drinks, and he promptly forgets everything that happened in Romania! (We find out about Rossi's time in Romania because he conveniently wrote letters describing what he learned, but of course he never mailed these letters.) Rossi remember drinking Amnesia, but he forgets everything about Romania. Why exactly is Dracula doing this?

Apparently Dracula is frustrated that no one can figure out how to find his tomb (because he makes them drink Amnesia as soon as they get a clue) and become his librarian, so he appears at the college where Rossi works and abducts him. When Rossi wakes up in the tomb, Dracula confesses his diabolical plan to leave blank books around the libraries of the world to lure a suitable scholar to his tomb. Rossi protests: "But I didn't find your tomb, you brought me here!" Dracula ignores this valid complaint. "Now that I have explained my evil plan, let us read!" And so we are treated to ludicrious scene where Rossi and Dracula are quietly reading ancient old books in a tomb! (But the reading doesn't commence until after Rossi has a fine meal underground. Where does this magical dinner come from? Why does an undead vampire need room service? No one else has been in his tomb for 500 years, so it isn't like he is used to entertaining visitors.)

Why does Dracula print up only 1450 of his blank books? Because that was the year the Ottomans took over his kingdom. But we learn in a different part of the book that people in that part of the world dated their calendars from the time of the Great Flood, because all of Brother Kiril's letters are dated something like 6540. If the monks of that era are using an archaic calendar, why isn't Dracula? He ought to have printed 6540 blank books!

Rossi has an assistant, Paul, who is actually the main character of this story. Paul realizes he must find the tomb of Dracula so he can rescue Rossi. If Paul waits too long and Rossi is bitten three times by Dracula, then Rossi will be turned into a vampire himself! It takes months for Paul to finally reach Rossi, and yet Dracula still hasn't gotten around to administering the third bite. Nevertheless, Paul drives a stake through Rossi's heart any way! I was confused by this. The whole issue of being needing three bites to turn into a vampire is not applied consistently in the Historian. For example, the unnamed librarian, who is a pseudo vampire, has apparently only been bitten once. Yet this librarian bites Helen, even though he is not yet a vampire himself! Then he gets hit by car, which kills him, except he is apparently already undead, because he shows up again later in the novel. But when he does show up again, he is much stronger, "because apparently he has been bitten a second time!". Helen gets bitten a second time, but she doesn't turn into a vampire. (Helen has been wearing a crucifix, but apparently the chain broke in her sleep and it fell off on the exact night when Dracula decides to show up and haunt her! How inconvenient!) (Despite the fact Dracula can now move around in the sunlight, he is still afraid of a crucifix. We know this because he hides his face behind a newspaper when confronting Paul's daughter, who is wearing a crucifix around her neck.)

Every where Paul and Helen go, they meet someone who has also found one of Dracula's blank books. Attend a conference in Romania and talk to a Scottish professor - coincidentally, he also has one of those books! Stop at a monastary in Bulgaria? Yes, they have one there too! Stop for dinner at a restaurant in Constantinople? A stranger sits down at their table who also received a book! What a coincidence - even the characters in the book remark on how extraordinary this coincidence is. Even better, the guy in the restaurant turns out to be a member of a super secret order of Turkish Vampire Fighters! These Turkish vampire fighters never reveal their existence to anyone, but he tells Paul "... because you guessed!" Paul: "No I didn't!" Turkish guy: "Well, I have to reveal my membership in this ultra secret society so that I can give you the 200,000 lira you need to bribe your way into Bulgaria." How convenient! Also convenient, Helen has an aunt who is an authority in Romania and can get Paul and Helen in to that country.

There is lots of more: Helen throws herself off a cliff to elude Dracula, only to fall a mere 15 feet and escape without harm by landing on a convenient ledge. Dracula can't be bothered to look over the top of the cliff to see where Helen lands, Dracula presumes she is dead, but Helen lives in fear of him in the following years - why? And how does Helen get off that ledge? There is still a huge cliff below her, but apparently she merely walks down!

Why is Paul's hotel room in France in such disarray when his daughter and Bayley get there? They have time to search through his things, read dozens of postcards, and still they make it up the mountain in time for Dracula's appearance - so why was Paul in such a rush?

At the end of the novel, why does Master James suddenly appear, a character barely mentioned in a couple of paragraphs in this gigantic book, comes running in, which distracts Dracula. This apparently allows Helen to fire. Talk about a deus ex machina!

I have not exhausted the stupid plot twists in this horrible novel, but I am tired of writing about it. Avoid this huge bloated book at all costs. There are plenty of other good books in the world. Pick up one of the good ones, and let's join Dracula in his tomb: "Let us read - but not the Historian!"