The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Vampire tale awakens a thirst

I've posted about the upcoming novel, The Historian, before. Now here's a review in The Baltimore Sun:

A crucifix, a tiny silver pistol with matching bullets and dagger, a head of garlic. These accoutrements are viewed by the heroine of The Historian in a tiny rare books chamber at Oxford University in 1974. The vampire hunting kit dates to the 17th century. Our heroine - unnamed in classic gothic fiction style - is just shy of 18. Her American father, Paul - one of the historians of the title - may or may not be a vampire slayer. Her Romanian mother, whom she long believed dead, may or may not be a vampire. A killer - or killers - lurk in the shadows, hide behind newspapers in transcontinental trains, turn up in every library between Harvard and Istanbul University (including the Library of Congress). Those killers, who may or may not be the henchmen of the greatest vampire to ever walk the earth, are stalking our young miss and her father, as they once did his mentor and his daughter. As horror tales of previous centuries exhort their audience: "Read on - if you dare!" The hype surrounding publication of The Historian has been of mythic proportions, like the vampire lore at its blood-drenched heart. Elizabeth Kostova appears as mysterious as her heroine. The idea for her labor of love was born while on a walk in the woods with her husband and dog more than a decade ago, was 10 years in the writing and the debut novel sold for $2 million. The publishing world can't stop talking about it.
I've got to get my manuscript back out to potential publishers. Wickerman also pointed me to this review, "High Stakes," in Newsweek:
Elizabeth Kostova is so squeamish that she has never read a Stephen King novel. It's not that she's afraid of scary stories; she just doesn't like gore. So when she began her novel about Dracula, "The Historian," she promised herself that "I would only spill a cup of blood in the whole book." She pauses to do a little silent calculating and then smiles. "I don't think I exceeded my limit by much." But if Kostova's debut novel is short on gore, it is far from bloodless. The corpses start mounting up early, and the chill factor is severe from start to finish. You don't have to read far to see why Little, Brown paid $2 million for the manuscript, or why the rights have been sold in 28 languages, or why Sony Pictures bought film rights for $1.5 million. Kostova knows how to get the most out of her cup of blood. "The Historian" is a long book (642 pages), with no fewer than four stories going on at once. It starts in the '70s, when a 16-year-old girl discovers a strange book in her father's library, a book with blank pages except for the center spread, across which sprawls the image of a dragon. To explain how he came by the book, the father, a diplomat, tells his daughter a story that begins at an American university in the '50s. That story, which moves the action to Istanbul and then to the Balkans, soon involves another book with a dragon in it. Each story hides another, like nested Russian dolls. All of them lead to Dracula. It is a tale of such fiendish complication that while writing it, Kostova kept a chart on her wall tracing the narratives. But it is a testament to her skill that, as you're reading, the book never feels complicated. Instead, "The Historian" is good enough to make you swallow the editor's insistence in an interview that "The Da Vinci Code" was the last thing on her mind when she laid out the advance for this historical mystery. Certainly no one can accuse Kostova of trying to cash in on the "Da Vinci" craze: she'd been laboring over her book for eight years when Dan Brown published his. "The Historian" is strikingly fresh and unformulaic, and considering how many times we've traveled through the Borgo Pass to Castle Dracula, that's saying a lot. Kostova's vampire is no campy Lugosi knockoff but a blend of the cunning, powerful count who debuts in Bram Stoker's 1897 classic novel and the actual Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, a 15th-century Romanian prince who was both a nationalist hero and a sadistic torturer. Blending history and myth, Kostova has fashioned a version so fresh that when a stake is finally driven through a heart, it inspires the tragic shock of something happening for the very first time.
I'm very happy (and envious) of Kostova. But I've only worked on my novel for three years so there's still hope for me.


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