Like many reviewers before me I had a love and hate relationship with this book. My rating, realistically should be 2.5 stars rather than a full threeLike many reviewers before me I had a love and hate relationship with this book. My rating, realistically should be 2.5 stars rather than a full three. Part of me thinks the author intended to write a particular book and somehow wound up inserting a second book into this.
The major part of this book is built around scholarly research and touring around Europe looking for a trail of ancient documents that concern the historical figure of Vlad Dracul. This part of the book I simply loved. I loved the whole searching around musty libraries through old and ancient documents in different languages. When visiting these different countries, I did like that the author didn't pander to American audiences. She actually took the time to develop the need for interpreters etc. It usually drives me crazy when people visit foreign lands in very rural areas and everyone happens to speak English, especially since this book takes place in the mid-20th century. I feel like the need for interpreters made the book a little more realistic. I loved the vivid landscapes she painted of faraway lands and it was on par with historical non-fiction I've read. I think this was, by far, the most enjoyable for me. I truly do enjoy these kinds of books quite a bit. I realize that some readers may find this aspect obscenely boring, but I liked that scholarly level of detail that really brought me into those foreign nations.
Now, the part that I truly hated about this book was the underlying vampire story. It's almost as if Kostova submitted a story about scholars researching the historical Dracula and the publisher responded with "well, can you make the vampires actually real, they're very popular with readers today." And based on that marketing ploy a "real" vampire story was inserted haphazardly into this book. If that's not what actually happened and she planned this all along, it is a terrible story. It pained me greatly when I read about these high-level scholars from Oxford University say "now, I don't really believe in vampires or their superstitions..." then they would proceed to wear crosses and use all kinds of garlic. This process would continue throughout the book even after they met a real vampire! It was almost mind-numbing at times. The real saving grace of this novel is the fact that I felt the real vampire story was a minor afterthought and does not consume that much of the real writing of the story or it's interest in history.
The real nail in the coffin for how terrible this story is has to do with the ending. The real motivation behind Dracula's attacks is one of the dumbest things I have ever read. Luckily, this only comes to fruition in the very last parts of the book, which means the majority of the book is satisfying to read overall.
In the end, I would much rather Kostova spend her efforts writing, perhaps, some type of historical fiction that is rooted more in reality. The supernatural does not seem to be something she writes well, it's as if her own belief that such things are preposterous wends its way into her pages. She just did not set up a convincing universe where vampires should exist in actuality. If she had just written a book about scholars researching the ancient mysteries of Dracula and cover-ups throughout the centuries due to superstition, this would have been a fine and excellent novel. Alas, we get some hackneyed vampire story amidst a beautiful backdrop. ...more