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Literature / The Historian

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"To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history..."

Some vampires are parents. Some are homosexual. Others are friendly. Others are portrayed as those you see on television played by Bela Lugosi. (And then some are all of the above.) And then there are those vampires that manage to cause such a ''stir'' in some circles...

And then there are the real thing.

A story within a story, The Historian chronicles the adventure of a young nameless 16-year-old girl who finds an old vellum-bound book in her father's library. Upon hearing her father's explanation of the book, she learns about his travels to Istanbul and meeting Helen, his adviser's beautiful daughter. The narrator becomes increasingly interested in the story of Dracula.

But it doesn't end there.

The narrator's calm, peaceful life in Amsterdam is disrupted when her historian father has mysteriously disappeared, saying he's going to find her Missing Mom. Growing up with him, she loves history as much as he did, and doesn't believe a word of it. While she travels through the capitals of Europe to find him, she reads some letters of his that he's left behind, and slowly unravels the truth about her father's past, her missing mother, whom she had previously presumed dead, and her whereabouts.

But what does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with anything? The answer to this, and the questions put up by her father's letters are found by the narrator as she travels from dusty libraries in Amsterdam to major cities all over Europe.

The Historian is Elizabeth Kostova's debut novel, published in 2005 when the world was in the middle of Twilight-mania. And thus some consider it to be the vampire book we all passed up.

As a reminder: this is not a horror novel. Not to be confused with the academic journal of the same name. Or any other historians, for that matter.

This novel contains the following tropes:

  • Adults Are Useless: Absolutely, totally averted.
  • Badass Bookworm: Many, many characters. Also, Dracula himself.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Master James and Helen at the end.
  • Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: Rossi was made to forget that he ever met Helen's mother. At the end he remembers and Helen is able to forgive him.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Helen.
  • Disappeared Dad: Rossi, to Helen.
  • Doom as Test Prize: Dracula leaves arcane clues to his existence and whereabouts and then vampirizes and enslaves anybody talented enough to follow them.
  • Doorstopper: The reason some people passed up the book, because 600+ pages is long no matter how you look at it.
  • Driven to Suicide: Helen mentions that there are a lot of folk songs about young women throwing themselves off cliffs or otherwise committing suicide to avoid being taken into Ottoman harems, and Helen herself jumps off a cliff to avoid Dracula, although she survives.
  • The End... Or Is It?: Years after Dracula's apparent death, the narrator receives one of his dragon books, suggesting that either he's resurrected, or someone else is restarting his activities.
  • Framing Device: The heroine's parents' letters, which basically tell around 75% of the story.
  • Happily Married: The Boras. Paul and Helen, for about a few years. Then it gets worse.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Helen at the end, when it takes one shot with a Silver Bullet to down Dracula.
  • Last-Name Basis: Barley's actual first name is Stephen, but nobody calls him that.
  • The Mentor: Bartholomew Rossi, to Paul.
  • Missing Mom: The heroine's mother, whom she thinks is dead. Helen Rossi is still alive and kicking.
  • No Name Given: The heroine. It's mentioned that she's named after her maternal grandmother, but we never learn her name either.
  • Plot-Triggering Book: The plot starts when the daughter of a historian, discovers a peculiar little book purporting to tell the true story of Vlad Tepes. Soon the novel itself becomes a frame for stories-within-stories, as the heroine unravels her father's past in Transylvania and his connection with her supposedly-dead mother.
  • Relationship Upgrade: Paul and Helen, who go from a young man and a young woman stuck together because of their love for one person and are constantly snarking at each other to a married couple with a daughter; Barley and the narrator.
  • Secret Police: A given when the protagonist travel through the Eastern Bloc. Have some unexplained interest in capturing Dracula, though Paul and Helen theorize they hope he could somehow resurrect the preserved bodies of Communist leaders for them.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Audiobook only! When the narrator and her traveling companion find themselves forced to share a hotel room — with only a single, narrow bed and not even a rug — the audiobook has them laugh in slightly hysterical reaction, kiss ... and Fade To Silence. The book itself takes the scene farther ... far enough to reveal that the heroine and Barley go no farther and actually do absolutely nothing beyond kissing.
  • Silver Bullet: Noted as one of the few things that can actually kill a vampire: one to the heart will instantly kill it. Helen carries around a gun in her purse with specialized ones.
  • Staking the Loved One: Professor Bora and Selim are forced to stake their librarian friend. Helen and Paul arrive too late to prevent Rossi being turned and have to stake him, and it's heavily implied that Paul stakes Helen after she dies of her terminal illness, just in case.
  • Statuesque Stunner: Helen.
  • Tsundere: Again, Helen, who is a Type B.
  • Trend Covers: For The Da Vinci Code.
  • The Order: Professor Bora is part of one founded in the 15th century to combat Dracula.
  • Überwald: Deliberately averted: part of the novel's intention is to depict Eastern Europe realistically instead of as a stereotypical evil fairyland.
  • Vampire Bites Suck: The traditional three bites will turn you into one. This is the fate of Professor Bora's librarian friend, and nearly the fate of Helen.
  • Vampire Refugee: This is why Helen left her family; she gets bitten twice and feels tainted. When Dracula nearly gets her the fatal third time, she decides she has to kill him before her family will be safe around her.
  • Wicked Cultured: Dracula