Among the many debut novels published each year, only a small percentage are granted generous advances, film rights sales and the full force of a publishing house's publicity machine. In 1997, the debut novel that drew the world's attention was Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha. This year, the smash hit in the first-novel category is unarguably Elizabeth Kostova's vampire novel The Historian, which has more than 800,000 copies in print. Ten years in the making, the novel follows a young girl who takes up her father's quest to find the real Dracula. Kostova was inspired both by her own father's vampire stories, and by her experiences living and traveling in Eastern Europe as the Iron Curtain fell. On one such trip to Bulgaria in 1989, she met her future husband, Georgi Kostov, who later emigrated to the U.S.
Told partially through letters and punctuated by digressions on European history and vampire lore, Kostova's novel might not have looked like a sure bet. However, when the book was published in mid-June, first-day sales topped those of another surprise blockbuster, The Da Vinci Code, and it hasn't left the bestseller lists since. The leisurely pace and literary style of The Historian are quite different from the hectic speed of Dan Brown's novel, but both books blend fact and fiction in interesting ways—and both keep readers eagerly turning the pages.
Kostova has said that her next novel will be vampire-free, though it still deals with her first love, history. Whatever the subject, her phenomenal success guarantees that the book will resemble its predecessor in at least one respect: sales figures. Copyright 2005 BookPage Reviews.
BookPage Reviews 2005 July
The legend of Dracula is one of the world's most enduring, spanning over 500 years since the death of the fearsome Romanian prince who inspired it, Vlad the Impaler. Thus it seems only fitting that any literary endeavor attempting to take on a historical and mythical figure of this magnitude should require time, patience and fortitude. Fortunately, debut novelist Elizabeth Kostova didn't shy away from the challenge, investing 10 long years of writing and research into what has become one of the most anticipated novels of the year, The Historian.
Kostova's keen interest in the subject stems from a childhood of being entertained by her father's stories of Bram Stoker's Dracula. From these early fictional seeds, her fertile imagination took flight, eventually percolating into an epic and unforgettable story of such breathtaking scope that it seems to belie classification as a debut novel.
Arcing back and forth between the 1970s and the 1950s, The Historian follows a motherless young girl's quest to learn the truth about her father's secret past and his search through Cold War-era Eastern Europe for the murderous fiend that has cost him so much—Dracula. The two journeys eventually become one as the story traces the monster's footsteps from the hallowed halls of Oxford to the mist-shrouded mountains of Transylvania and finally to a medieval monastery that yields a shocking truth. Going back in time to the Middle Ages, the novel peels back centuries of history and myth, threading together a chilling hypothetical portrayal of Dracula's lingering bloodthirsty presence into modern times.
It is this stunning fictional premise, made all the more plausible by the novel's rich historical context and use of epistolary narrative devices and archival documents, that makes The Historian so viscerally alluring. Ambitiously transcending genres, it succeeds equally as a terrifying gothic thriller, enlightening historical novel and haunting love story. Though the shifts between the two main storylines are occasionally awkward, Kostova's masterful and atmospheric storytelling yields a bewitching and paradoxical tale that would satiate even the prince of darkness himself.
Joni Rendon writes from Hoboken, New Jersey. Copyright 2005 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2005 May #1
An intricately plotted first novel, ten years in the making, lavishly reworks the Dracula legend. Kostova's unnamed narrator, a brainy schoolgirl whose education has benefited from European travels required by her father Paul's pacifist foundation, kick-starts the narrative when she happens upon an old book that features a striking woodcut illustration. The image of a huge dragon and the word "Drakulya" thus stimulate her excited questions, her father's initially evasive responses and his gradual disclosures of intersecting scholarly researches into a centuries-old enigma: the unknown location of the tomb bloodthirsty warlord Vlad Tepes (whose atrocities inspired Bram Stoker's ur-vampire) is buried in, though perhaps not resting in peace. We learn, piecemeal, about Paul's mentor Bartolomeo Rossi's fascination with the Dracula story (and its little understood relation to the history of the Ottoman Empire), Rossi's unexplained disappearance and the alarming fact that people interested in obscure manuscripts keep turning up dead (if not undead). The story settles into a hypnotic dual rhythm as the narrator seeks her father (who seems to be hunting for Rossi) throughout Istanbul and the Balkans, accompanied by Helen, a young scholar pursuing her own agenda-while testimony from both Paul's letters to his narrator-daughter and Rossi's to him reveal Vlad Tepes's unearthly ambivalence. The notorious barbarian's excesses coexisted with his "predilection not only for the best of the academic world . . . but also for librarians [and] archivists," and the universal fear and loathing he evoked are complicated by information "that monks traveled with Dracula's remains, and that he was probably buried in a monastery." All is explained in a smashing climax and an ironic epilogue, which suggests that a pact between forces of good and evil has kept the ancient evil alive and well to this day.Anne Rice, beware. There's a new Queen of the Night in town, and she's taking no prisoners. Copyright Kirkus 2005 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2005 February #2
Is Dracula alive (so to speak) and well in modern-day Europe? That question, sparked by a strange medieval text and some letters, sets an American girl on the quest that wrecked her father. There's a big, big push here; the publisher is aiming for the Da Vinci Code and even the adult Harry Potter crowd. With a ten-city tour. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal Reviews 2005 June #2
Did Bram Stoker base his character Count Dracula on the historical Vlad Dracul, the cruel 15th-century prince of Wallachia? Some believe this despite scanty evidence, but in Kostova's first novel there is no doubt. In the early 20th century, Paul, a young graduate student, learns from his advisor, Professor Rossi, that Prince Dracula is still alive as one of the undead. When the professor disappears one terrifying night, Paul goes in search of his mentor, whom he knows to be in Dracula's clutches. His search takes him to secret archives and libraries of ancient monasteries throughout Eastern Europe; he is joined by his daughter, his wife, and friends, all historians and scholars themselves. (There's even an evil, undead librarian!) The writing is excellent, and the pace is brisk, although it sags a bit in the middle. There is plenty of suspense so that readers will want to find out what happens next. Ten years in the writing, this debut is recommended for readers who enjoy arcane literary puzzles â€¦ la Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and Ian Caldwell's The Rule of Four. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/05.]-Patricia Altner, Information Seekers, Columbia, MD Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2005 April #2
Considering the recent rush of door-stopping historical novels, first-timer Kostova is getting a big launch-fortunately, a lot here lives up to the hype. In 1972, a 16-year-old American living in Amsterdam finds a mysterious book in her diplomat father's library. The book is ancient, blank except for a sinister woodcut of a dragon and the word "Drakulya," but it's the letters tucked inside, dated 1930 and addressed to "My dear and unfortunate successor," that really pique her curiosity. Her widowed father, Paul, reluctantly provides pieces of a chilling story; it seems this ominous little book has a way of forcing itself on its owners, with terrifying results. Paul's former adviser at Oxford, Professor Rossi, became obsessed with researching Dracula and was convinced that he remained alive. When Rossi disappeared, Paul continued his quest with the help of another scholar, Helen, who had her own reasons for seeking the truth. As Paul relates these stories to his daughter, she secretly begins her own research. Kostova builds suspense by revealing the threads of her story as the narrator discovers them: what she's told, what she reads in old letters and, of course, what she discovers directly when the legendary threat of Dracula looms. Along with all the fascinating historical information, there's also a mounting casualty count, and the big showdown amps up the drama by pulling at the heartstrings at the same time it revels in the gruesome. Exotic locales, tantalizing history, a family legacy and a love of the bloodthirsty: it's hard to imagine that readers won't be bitten, too. Agent, Amy Williams. 325,000 first printing; major ad/promo; 10-city author tour. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2005 October
Adult/High School -A motherless 16-year-old girl stumbles upon a mysterious book and papers dating back to her father's student days at Oxford. She asks him to explain her find but he disappears before she can learn everything. Reading the salutation of the letters, "My dear and unfortunate successor," the unnamed heroine uncovers an academic quest that begins with her father's mentor's first research into the history of Vlad Tepes (Dracula) and reaches a kind of conclusion many years later. Kostova's debut book unfolds across Europe, through three main narrators, and back and forth in time, as the story of two families' connections to and search for the true Vlad the Impaler is unveiled. The historian of the title could refer to any of the novel's central characters or even to Vlad Tepes himself. While teens may gain a feeling for Cold War Europe and some respect for the Internet-less scholars of 40 years ago, Historian is an eerie thriller, an atmospheric mystery, and an appealing romance. Teen fascination with vampires has been keen since Bram Stoker popularized the legend of Dracula, right up through Buffy. This complex, convoluted, and well-written novel will appeal to teens who love a story on a grand scale that is as engrossing as it is entertaining.-Jane Halsall, McHenry Public Library District, IL[Page 200]. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.