Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Historian - Book Review

The Historian begins with a cryptic message from its narrator...

As a historian, I have learned that, in fact, not everyone who reaches back into history can survive it.  And it is not only reaching back that endangers us; sometimes history itself reaches inexorably forward for us with its shadowy claw.  ix

The narrator lives a life of comfortable wealth with her father Paul for whom she has unwavering love and respect.  Paul's wife and the narrator's mother, Helen, disappeared when the narrator was only a very small child; the narrator and her father do not speak of Helen. 
Paul travels a great deal and sometimes takes the narrator with him on his journeys, so as a 16 year old young woman, the narrator has seen more of the world than most other people see in their entire lives.  She enjoys and appreciates art, books and her father's search for historic artifacts. 

One day while her father is out, the narrator finds a dragon embossed book in his study. 
The narrator questions her father about the book, and Paul has no choice but to recount its sinister history to his daughter. 

Paul's story begins with finding (or being chosen to find) the dragon book in the library of the university where he was a graduate student.  Searching for answers about the book, he shares his find and the not so coincidental events surrounding its appearance with his graduate professor, Rossi.  Rossi is also a chosen book holder, and after telling his story to Paul, Rossi disappears the very same night.

After Rossi's disappearance, Paul begins a quest to find him, hoping against hope that despite the blood found in Rossi's study, Paul will find him alive.  The narrator convinces Paul to tell her the story of his search across Eastern Europe following clues from ancient libraries, rare documents and artifacts and other historians along the way.  It is through these talks and later letters that the narrator learns the truth about her father's (and her mother's) involvement in a worldwide search for the body of Vlad III (Tepes'), the Wallachian ruler whose horrific actions were the inspiration for Dracula. 

The Historian is not a fast read...but it shouldn't be.  The depth of history, the descriptions...of the unfamiliar countries, their customs and conflicts, the characters, major and minor, their lives and how their paths interconnect, with each other as well as with Dracula, are worth the time it takes to slow down and savor them. 
The suspense builds all throughout the novel as Paul tells the narrator the story of Rossi's disappearance, Paul's search to find him, his interactions with others who've received the Dragon books, and eventually with the evil one himself.
The story is told through alternating points of view...through the narrator's retelling of the story from the very beginning, switching to Paul's letters back and forth.   I found this to be an incredibly effective strategy of the author's in order to build suspense and even frustration at times.  Frustration is appropriate for this book because I think it enables the reader to feel the tedious work of the historian as he/she tries to solve the mysteries of the past and even to connect the past with current events.

I had a difficult time writing this seems there's so much to say about this book, but there are so many I could have said that would have been spoilers...I was satisfied with the ending...there can be so many interpretations and I cannot wait for my read along buddies (hosted by Coffee and a Book Chick and Tedious and Brief at On the Ledge Read Alongs to discuss them with me.
The Historian is a intriguing and suspenseful as this story is, there were times where it felt like I was running a cross country race and that I was never going to get to the end and find out all of the secrets; it was very helpful to have folks along the way to provide nourishment as well as a pat on the back and to offer words of encouragement :)
I also felt like it was helpful for me to stop in planned places and reflect rather than barrelling through the book and missing important and/or other enjoyable aspects of the book.

As for the read along format many more things am I going to learn about book blogging that are going to make me happy!  I want to sign up for more and more read alongs!! Please, please if you comment and know of other read alongs, let me know :)

Take your time with this won't be sorry.


  1. The Historian is one of my favorite books ever :) I agree that it is slow, but like you said, it's better when you take the time with it because it fits the story. And then you can take everything in more.
    Loved reading your review :) It's been years since I read this and now I feel like reading it again after reading your review :)

  2. Thanks, Kelly! There were so many things I wanted to mention but knew I couldn't in case I might spoil something for someone else :)
    I can't wait to read The Swan Thieves next!

  3. Great review! It's so hard to summarise this book, but you did a very good job at reviewing it. It's a slow read, in a good way, as the suspense that slowly builds throughout the novel is insanely good.:) I'm glad you enjoyed it! I totally enjoyed reading it, too, it's a pretty unique (partly) vampire novel.

  4. I'm so happy that you joined this readalong -- it is one of my favorite books ever, and it was my second time reading it. I'm planning to read it again in another five years -- I just loved this story!

    There was one particular section that I noticed was a little slower than all of the other sections, but I must admit that I only noticed it this time around when reading it one part at a time -- I don't really remember noticing it when I first read it! But, it was so much fun to read something like this with everyone and to see everyone's thoughts!

    I'm sort of participating in The Count of Monte Cristo readalong -- it's set up a little differently in that there is one section a week to read, but one blogger is posting a write up on the site and then everyone comments on that recap. I'll be honest that I haven't participated much in it thus far, but I plan to! The Literary Lollipop is hosting this one -- her site is at I'm really behind with this one!