Review: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history… – The Historian

Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history. (via Goodreads)


The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is a modern-ish exploration of the story behind Dracula. Set in the 1970’s, it is far enough in the past to allow for a lack of internet and add more difficulties to the family’s struggle within the narrative of the story, without pulling readers fully out of their comfort zone. It is touted as a horror novel, but it never really reached horror for me. It was more of a suspenseful history novel than horror. There were attacks, since it is a vampire novel, but I was never truly horrified in this lengthy book.

As Kostova’s debut novel, it became a best seller within its first week of life, and was the winner of the 2003 Hopwood Award for Novel in-progress, the 2006 Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Best Adult Fiction,  and the 2005 Quill Award for Debut Author of the Year.

One of the hardest things that I found within this story was the mixed methods of telling the story. The daughter, who I believe goes unnamed, is the main narrator of the story. At some points, it’s told as if it’s Paul’s recollections, at others it’s told through letters from Professor Rossi, and then it’s also told from the daughter’s perspective as she tries to rescue her father. Because of this, it honestly made the story drag on a fairly regular basis. It gets better as the story goes on, but it was kind of hard to make myself keep reading after I set the book down.

However, Kostova clearly knows and loves the Eastern Europe that she portrayed in The Historian. She was amazing at describing the places her characters were traveling, as well as pulling popular folk lore into her epic of Vlad Tepes.

“For the first time, I had been struck by the excitement of the traveler who looks history in her subtle face.”

I honestly loved the traveling throughout this novel, and I enjoyed that all of these characters were incredibly dedicated to history. Paul was a historian, Helen was an anthropologist, and pretty much everyone they meet felt that finding out the truth about Vlad Tepes was the most important thing they could do. It was really interesting, if a little unrealistic.

There was one quote in particular that really struck me as something that many of us who read constantly would enjoy.

“When you handle books all day long, every new one is a friend and a temptation.”

Overall, I enjoyed The Historian, but it wasn’t my favorite book. However, it gets points for great research and originality, which brings it back to its four star rating.

four stars and one empty one meant to signify a four star review

5 thoughts on “Review: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

  1. Thank you posting! I had heard a lot about this book so was interested to read your review. I’m worried about adding such a weighty tome to an already massive TBR list but may do if I spy a copy on one of my bookshop jaunts!

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