Read for the Vampire Reading Challenge.
The Historian begins in Amsterdam in 1972 when a teenage girl discovers a mysterious book in her father’s library. The entire contents of the book are a woodcut dragon and the word Drakulya. From here, the story weaves backward and forward in time, as the girl’s father reluctantly relates the story of how he came into possession of the book, and how it ultimately ties back to the legend of Dracula.
This is ultimately a family story, but it’s also a story rich in history, from the time of Dracula, when Prince Vlad III fought the Ottoman Empire, to the days when Eastern Europe was still a part of the Soviet bloc, to the present.
I really enjoyed this book. I also had to put it aside a few times when I was home alone, reading it late at night, and couldn’t deal with the sinister overtones of what might happen next. This isn’t in any way a scary book, but it’s wonderfully creepy, and the creepiness is perfectly done. Dracula is not a large figure in the direct action of this book, but his presence is always lurking in the background.
As I mentioned, this is really a family story. The unnamed protagonist, her father Paul, and her mother Helen, are beautifully drawn characters, and there is an entire cast of supporting players, running the gamut from the Turkish Shakespearean scholar with a surprising depth of knowledge of the time of Vlad III, to a Scottish-Gypsy archaeologist that Paul’s mentor meets in Romania. Everyone is drawn with great detail, even if they only play a small part in the story.
The main quibble people seem to have with this book is the pacing, which at times is not necessarily helped by the author’s attention to historical detail. I never felt that personally, but I’m also a closet history freak, and found the level of detail fascinating. This is not the book to read if you’re looking for a blood and guts vampire tale, but if you’re in the mood to think, and maybe even learn a little bit, this book is well worth the read.