Fantasy/SF Book Reviews

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Little, Brown, June, 2005
Hardcover, 656 pages
ISBN: 0316011770
Ordering information:

The Historian
by Elizabeth Kostova In 1972 Amsterdam a 16 year-old American girl (we never do learn her name) lives with her diplomat father and housekeeper. One day she finds an ancient and mysterious book in her father's library. The book's pages are blank, except for a vivid woodcut of a dragon with the word "Drakulya" written below it. Tucked inside the book are a packet of letters cryptically addressed to "My dear and unfortunate successor." When the girl asks her father Paul about the book, he looks terrified and won't talk about it. Eventually, he does tell her the story, bit by bit as they travel across Europe for his job. The story alternates between Paul's adventures in the 1950's when as a young scholar the book mysteriously appeared in his study carrel, and the current day when our heroine sets off on a search for her missing father. Paul's story of his youth is also of a quest: to find his missing mentor, Professor Rossi, who also was in possession of one of the mysterious Drakulya books. Before he disappeared, Professor Rossi told Paul that he believed that Vlad Tepes, Dracula himself, is still alive. He posited that Bram Stoker's Dracula was based on the historical Vlad Tepes (better known as Vlad the Impaler) who ruled as a Prince of Wallachia in the mid-15th century. Known for his brutal wars against the invading Ottomans, Vlad Tepes is still hated and feared in that part of the world. And no one seems exactly sure where his body is buried.

Elizabeth Kostova takes a measured pace, instilling the maximum amount of anxiety in the reader. The story unfolds slowly, but steadily, through a complex mix of storylines: the present day narrative, the girl's search in 1972 for her father (Paul) who goes missing leaving only a note, Paul's narrative of his hunt as a young man for the missing Professor Rossi who is being held a prisoner of Dracula, and the story of Dracula himself, which is told by various minor characters and through historical documents. Paul's halting descriptions of his fight against evil and his love for the brilliant scholar Helen Rossi who accompanies him on his quest makes for compelling reading. Interspersed between action scenes involving the hunt for Rossi, the scholars meet eccentric locals, delve into ancient manuscripts, and descend into frozen crypts. With the exception of a slight sagging of momentum in the middle of the book due to the overlong descriptions of the movements of 15th century monks, the plot is absolutely absorbing. The descriptions of Eastern Europe and the history of the infamous Vlad Dracul are fascinating, and the atmosphere simply oozes menace: Dracula's undead minions lurk around every corner and just about everyone who helps the girl and her father comes to a nasty end. This is a literate, gripping tale of history, suspense and otherworldly chills.

--Claire E. White

Shadowfall: First Chronicle of the Godslayer by James Clemens

Roc, July, 2005
Hardcover, 480 pages
ISBN: 0451459946
Ordering information:

Shadowfall: First Chronicle of the Godslayer
by James Clemens For over 4,000 years the people of the realm of Myrillia have enjoyed peace and prosperity under the governance of 100 gods and goddesses, who appeared after the Sundering when their own land was destroyed in a terrible cataclysm. Each of the Nine Lands is ruled by a god who is tied to the land he rules, those who are not tied to the land are Rogues who eventually go mad. Gods are blessed with Grace, a powerful magic that is found in all of their bodily humours which handmaids collect daily. Tylar de Noche was once a valued part of this hierarchy. He was a Shadowknight of the realm, one of the elite. But a terrible betrayal by the one he loved most saw him falsely convicted of a crime and sent into slavery. He won his freedom, but his body is crippled and his mind is weary. When he sees the benevolent goddess Meeryn murdered by a monstrous creature not of this world, he is labeled the Godslayer by the Shadowknights that arrive on the scene. Before she died, Merryn bestowed Grace on Tylar and sends him on a crucial quest. Healed in body, but not in mind, Tylar does manage to escape his prisoners with the help of a thief named Rogger and Merryn's former handmaid, Delia. Tylar sets out to find out the meaning of the goddess' enigmatic last words and to clear his name. His path will eventually cross that of the young girl Dart, who was raised to be a god's handmaid. But Dart has a secret of her own, a secret that could change the course of the realm.

James Clemens, author of the popular "Wit'ch" series, takes his epic fantasy writing to a new level with this first entry in the new Godslayer Chronicles. The depth, intricacy and logic of the fantasy world Clemens has created is breathtaking. The Citadel at Tashijan where the Order of the Shadowknights and the Council of the Masters rule their domain, the training school for the gods' handmaids where young Dart finds her innocence destroyed, the beautiful underwater kingdom of the goddess Fyla: all are rendered with vivid, compelling descriptions. The characters are complex and multi-layered: the brave young Dart with her invisible companion Pupp, the tortured Tylar who must pay a terrible price to be healthy once again, Rogger, the wily thief who is at his best in a dangerous situation, and the Shadowknight Kathryn who lost just as much as Tylar did when he was falsely accused of a crime. The gods, like the humans, are all searching for answers. Clemens doesn't provide easy answers, but he does provide a brilliantly imagined world, a perfectly orchestrated plot, engaging characters and heart-pounding action.

--Claire E. White

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