When exploring her father’s library, our young narrator finds a pack of letters that all begin with, “My dear and unfortunate successor”. Very soon, the young woman is immersed in a world where Vlad the Impaler still lives and is at large.
When she asks her father about the letters, the historian begins to tell his daughter about how he got caught up in the history of Dracula, his quest to save his mentor, his own research, and how he met her mother. Before long, the young girl is captivated by her father’s story, and follows it, as he leads them all over the continent.
As she listens to the tale unravel, she discovers that Bram Stoker’s version of Vlad the Impaler is tame, in comparison to the real historical figure, who may or may not be stalking her father.
But soon enough, the tale turns dark, and her father leaves for some reason; the young girl, now alone, must pick up the pieces of her father’s tale, and follows its bloody trail through history.
Writing a description for this book is quite difficult. It took me a long time to read it, and since it had many various threads running throughout the story, it’s hard to remember them all now.
Like I said, it took me awhile to finish reading this. It’s quite a large book, and the beginning progresses rather slowly. I contemplated abandoning it at several points, but the premise intrigued me, so I kept pushing through. It took about 200 pages for me to be fully invested in the story, and then I was gripped for about 200 pages, and then lost interest by the last 200.
My opinion on this book is quite ambivalent; there are some things that I liked, which also annoyed me. Kostova’s writing style is one of these. If you are looking for a story to sweep you off your feet, this is not it. I would instead describe the plot as a slow, simmering one, and it takes a long time to get going. Kostova provides A LOT of detail, which in the beginning of the story, bogs you down. It’s difficult to wade past all the descriptive details to finally get to the heart of the story.
Another thing that detracts from the book’s readability is the format of it. It’s somewhat epistolary, and the bulk of the story takes place in the past, as told by the young girl’s father’s story and letters. The story reminds me of an onion; there are layers within layers within layers. Even within Paul, the historian’s, story, there are additional letters, and then stories within those letters. There are so many layers that it becomes difficult to keep track of the story and who’s telling it.
As previously mentioned, there is a lot of detail in the story. It’s obvious that this time period is a passion for Kostova, but there is way too much extraneous detail to be able to focus on the story. While a lot of the little details are interesting and provide richness to the story, they add bulk to the narrative and, again, cause readers to lose focus and get lost in their bulk.
With that being said, I really did enjoy the story, once I got to the heart of it. The quest to find Paul’s mentor quickly becomes tied up to the quest of finding Vlad the Impaler, who is immortal and has survived all these years. Reading about his presence all throughout history was fascinating, and more than a little bit creepy, especially since I’m fascinated by the story of Dracula.
I also enjoyed the richness in the setting; Paul and the woman who accompanies him, Helen, visit Turkey, Romania, and Hungary, and this was one of the instances where I enjoyed the details provided. It felt like I was visiting the exotic locations with them.
As someone who loves history, librarians, manuscripts, and old stories, this book was filled with all of the above. With that being said, I feel that novel could have benefited from a lot more editing to tighten the story. With all the extra details surrounding the main narrative, it’s not surprising to me that many people abandon it early on. If you get past the extra details though, the story hiding underneath all the layers is an interesting, rich one.
So for that: 3/5.
Thanks for reading,