This book was a Christmas present. I always make an effort to finish gift books, and I usually do because it’s the thought that counts, but this one was difficult to get through. I think it comes down to the book being not right for a reader like me, who requires historical fictions and their writers to be smart, or at least smarter than me.
If you’re a writer and you want to bring old legends and ancient creatures to contemporary times, then at least make them interesting. The least you could do is make them a little frightening and somewhat creepy because, after all, these are monsters.
Vlad Țepeș was a horrifying person when he was alive, and his legend as the Impaler is an echo and reminder of who he was. One does not “achieve” the name “the Impaler” and become a legendary monster that lives on in modern horror stories by feat of imagination alone; there’s actual history that shows the sort of bloody monarch he had been.
What Elizabeth Kostova does to Vlad Țepeș is similar to what urban fantasy writers have been doing to vampire tales in recent years: she sanitizes him by romanticizing his history and nature and presents him as a “stranger” with a huge secret living quietly among us. This is a huge disappointment to me not because it’s simple and naive, but because it brings up questions like why would he do that? what’s to gain by living among humans? Unfortunately, the story leaves me with more questions than answers, but none I’d like to explore further.
Another huge disappointment is this book could have been a great contemporary horror story or even as urban legend, and maybe in the hands of a stronger writer who understands suspense and thriller, it would have been something chilling. The problem lies in the focus of the book being on research and setting up events for a Dracula figure that isn’t even a little bit intimidating. I think that’s what bothers me most, that it’s an attempt to bring Dracula to contemporary times, but the elements of horror and suspense are missing, and so the result is a long-winded lackluster tale about unraveling family histories.
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In 2007, this book almost become a movie, but (un)fortunately, a deal couldn’t be reached and so things fell through. As strange as it is for me to say, especially after writing such a scathing review, this story might turn out better as a movie. If the focus is on suspense and horror, it could be an interesting “modern-day” Dracula flick. Cutting out the first half of the book might help to intensify the search for Dracula. It couldn’t hurt, anyway.