If an old leather-bound book turns up on your desk and falls open to an image of a dragon with a long, looped tail: hit the road, Jack, and don't come back. Good advice not heeded by the leading characters in Elizabeth Kostova's smash-hit debut novel The Historian, presented here in a fabulous ensemble performance by six eloquent audio readers. The narrator is only 16 when this dark, atmospheric, horror-tinged tale begins, but her father's obsession with the dragon and what it stands for goes back 20 years and his university mentor's another 20 years before that. These are passionate scholars who take on the quest to find the legendary vampire, Dracula, and destroy him before he destroys them. All is revealed through letters, long-held reminiscences, obscure texts and ancient archives. The pace is fast, the landscapes exotic, the train trips extensive, the plot deliciously arcane. 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.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2005 September #1
It would take a lot to kill a runaway bestseller like Kostova's debut. Though the audiobook doesn't quite drive a stake through its heart, neither does it do it any favors. With six actors (including Martin Jarvis, Jim Ward, Rosalyn Landor and Robin Atkin Downe) playing twice as many roles, the audio would benefit from a listing of the cast and characters rather than the unhelpful "in order of appearance" credit on the box. Listeners learn about a centuries-long vampire hunt from a historian, Paul (Boutsikaris), as he slowly tells the saga of his covert research to his teenage daughter (Whalley, whose lush whispery voice and conspiratorial attitude is most convincing). Paul's tale is supposed to be a secret, painfully pried from him by his daughter for whose safety he fears, but Boutsikaris recites it in a nonchalant and impersonal way. Most disappointing, though, is the voice of Dracula himself. His accent and delivery is exactly the stereotypical vampire voice used by everyone from Bela Lugosi to Sesame Street 's the Count. The eerie swelling string music is a nice touch. Simultaneous release with the Little, Brown hardcover (Reviews, Apr. 11). (July)[Page 58]. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.