My first impression The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, a literary novel about Vlad III (the Impaler) and the Dracula legend, was that it was sort of like slow-release horror – lots of exposition punctuated by increasingly disturbing moments of horror. This impression was made within the first hundred pages or so. After that, the tale goes from slow release to slow motion. There are still a few disturbing moments distributed throughout the next 500 pages but they are so few and far between that I was barely affected by them. With all of the talk, talk, talk, my imagination seemed to have gone numb by the time I read the big climax. A scene which wasn’t nearly as dramatic as it should have been.
While this novel didn’t inspire much horror in me, it did reawaken my desire to travel and explore some of the wondrous places the characters explore throughout their quest. What Kostova does well is to illuminate her settings beautifully. The passages describing a city or a site or a library were written with the reverence that the more dramatic or horrific scenes needed but lacked.
Note: I don’t usually talk about the physical appearance of a book because, as we all know, you aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, however, I must mention the artificially aged pages. The pages of the hardcover edition that I read were browned and often streaked or spotty. This combined with the italic font of many passages made for some serious eye strain. It was an unnecessary gimmick.
If you enjoy The Historian or simply enjoy vampire stories, I recommend watching Shadow of the Vampire, the excellent fictionalized look at the making of the 1922 silent horror classic, Nosferatu. Then go ahead and watch the 1922 silent horror classic Nosferatu. I am not a fan of silent cinema but since horror is a visual genre, this movie is extremely watchable even if just as a study in lighting. The unsettling image of the shadow of Count Orlock’s hands on the wall alone makes it worth watching the movie.