Thursday, October 06, 2005
The Historian by Elisabeth Kostovo
I was a little concerned that this was going to be like most of its ilk. But, this was just different enough to make it stand out from the pack. There seems to be an odd trend in literature these days. Somehow, making ancient history dangerous in the present is considered an appealing enough concept that it makes books fly off the shelves into briefcases, beach bags and onto nightstands. I can't wrap my mind around the ridiculousness of the concept. I enjoy historical fiction. I like a well written story of any kind. I've got no problem suspending belief and enjoying the ride. Give me a reason and I'm in, but how do you expect me to believe that a crime or mystery of hundreds of years ago is hazardous to modern people. I think it's safe to assume that all of the key players are long since dead. The Historian sidesteps that by combining history, mystery and the undead. She's made it so the danger is ever present and the interested parties are still out there. In this situation, despite the age of the mystery, the players are still viable.
The Historian as a travelogue is great. So much information about places I'll probably never see. The detail and descriptions were fascinating. I like the melding of history and cultures and fiction all wrapped up in a world tour. The homework to get the information right (not that I'd be able to prove that it is) must have taken quite a bit of serious research.
However, I'm really not sure how I felt about the story. I don't get the rationale behind the anonymous daughter. If she is somehow the last in Dracula's line, maybe she could have had a name and been more than a little more of a storyline, than a little groping with a college boy and running around in the shadows picking up mystery leftovers from the clues her father found. I do think the Dracula needs historians is a strange concept, although I did get the biggest kick out of all the references to the "evil librarian." Ms. Kostovo could have done without all the silly secret societies lurking in the shadows and working at cross purposes. They didn't add to the story, they just muddied the waters. Historians, librarians, book dealers and anthropologists were more than enough to run around like Scooby and Shaggy hunting for the answers to the mystery behind their ghoul.
Not a perfect book, but, really, how many can claim that title? Plenty of writers who are getting published today without merit, as far as I'm concerned, could learn a thing or two from Ms. Kostovo. Not that they should all write vampire books, since that market is pretty well saturated already. Granted, the vampire legend has been around from medieval times to its current spot in the pop culture consciousness. Books, movies, television comedies, dramas, soap operas and cartoons. In this case, Ms. Kostovo replaced the sexual subtext of the vampire story. A bite was violent and purposeful, but not sexual. Instead of Dracula making himself a harem of vampire brides, he was creating an undead think tank. Wait. Let me give this some thought. I've been looking for a way to improve my chances of reading all the books on my every growing to be read lists. This could work.