Month: August 2008

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Date of Publication: 2005, Little. Brown and Company

Number of Pages: 642

Synopsis (from inside cover): Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters are all addressed to “My dear and unfortunate successor,” and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history.

The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known – and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out. It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula. Generations of historians have risked their reputations, their sanity, and even their lives to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself – to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive.

Review: As a university student about to return to classes in a few weeks, I found an enthusiasm for this very scholarly novel, which I ultimately needed. The main problem with this book is that is stays true to the nature of historical research: searching through libraries with painstaking care, reading ancient texts, puzzling through inconsistencies. This is detective work at its finest, but even my study-starved mind became a little impatient at all the studying required to solve the mystery of Dracula.

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the way Kostova weaves her way through time, from stories from ancient Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria, to the fevered investigations spanning two generations in the 20th century. Secrets long buried in history are constantly being revealed and there’s a twist in almost every chapter. Kostova is also adept at bringing the environment in which these incredible events take place beautifully to life. I almost felt as if I were traveling through the streets of Istanbul and the countryside of Romania. Kostova also brings this intensity to her storytelling. It was at one moment incredibly frightening, and at another moment so moving it brought tears to my eyes.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in history, including the history of Dracula. The Historian is a wonderful and cerebral twist on the traditional Dracula legend.

Rating: 9/10

The Face of Death by Cody McFadyen

Date of Publication: 2007, Bantam Books

Number of Pages: 592

Synopsis (from back cover): A sixteen-year-old girl holds a gun to her head at the scene of a grisly triple homicide. She claims “The Stranger” killed her adoptive family, that he’s been following her all her life, killing everyone she ever loved, and that no one believes her. But Special Agent Smoky Barrett does. Her team has been hand-picked from among the nation’s elite law enforcement specialists and they are as obsessed and relentless as the psychos they hunt; they’ll have to be to deal with this case.

For another vicious double homicide reveals a killer embarked on a dark crusade of trauma and death: an “artist” who’s molding Sarah into the perfect victim – and the ultimate weapon. To catch him, Smoky is going to have to put her own fragile, once-shattered life on the line. For The Stranger is all too real, all too close, and all too determined. And when he finally shows his face, Smoky had better be ready to face her worst fear.

Review: This book was a wonderful, yet horrifying surprise for me. Having never read any other book by McFadyen, I didn’t know what to expect from a main character named Smoky. I didn’t know if this was going to be just another run-of-the-mill thriller, or something worse. but after reading the first three pages, I was immediately drawn into the story and I found myself intensely caring about Smoky, a woman who lost everything and yet gained a unique strength which carried her through the worst imaginable tragedy. It is this strength that Smoky relies upon as she delves further into sixteen-year-old Sarah’s mysterious and unbelievable past. She also relies on her team, a mix of unusual and fun personalities who each bring something different to the investigation. My favorite was the striking redhead, Callie, whose “tell it like it is” mentality brought a breath of humor into the story that it very much needed, given that the bulk of it revolves around incredibly gory and horrific murders.

The story centers on the idea of revenge, and also on the idea that something horrible happening to someone can change him or her into an evil person who is wholly bent on punishing those who, in their mind, are the ones responsible. The Stranger is single-mindedly pursuing and punishing people for his own tragic past. Sarah, as an innocent, is being molded in his image: A Ruined Life. His life was ruined, and now, so is Sarah’s. The crimes, as they are described through Sarah’s bitter diary, are simply horrible. I wept over the book more than once, and found myself holding my breath quite often during scenes of intense emotional torture and pain. That’s why this book was a horrifying surprise: I loved it, but it still caused me physical pain. It’s almost impossible not to react in this way to the story. It’s the ultimate story of tragedy and loss, and of recovery and strength and new beginnings.

Rating: 10/10