Elizabeth Kostova’s epic novel The Historian is a rich and unusual retelling of the Dracula myth. The narrator is an unnamed professor’s daughter who embarks on a quest to uncover the secrets of her family’s history, only to find herself drawn into the dark world of vampires descending from Vlad the Impaler.
The entire book is a historical mystery, spanning several continents and many generations. Its central premise – that Dracula is still alive and stalking the European academics who are hunting him – leads both the narrator and her father on the well-trodden trail in search of Vlad’s tomb.
But The Historian is also a serious and scholarly investigation of Transylvanian mythology, blending the known facts about the real Vlad the Impaler with Bram Stoker’s fictional Count Dracula. Its examination of good and evil, quest and obsession, religion, superstition, and family ties, at first appears quaint, but ends up quite thought-provoking.
Kostova’s version is original and well-told, full of beautiful descriptions that evoke the terror and suspense of the supernatural theme. And while Dracula’s central motivation is rather banal – there are a lot of convenient co-incidences – and the letter format is too lengthy in parts – I still found this book a captivating and enjoyable read.