Research-wise, this was a fun book. I learned a lot about a part of the world and many cities I didn’t know anything about. Also I’ve always been interested in Dracula’s connections to the Islamic world. I really, really enjoyed the Cold War elements here and how the regimes tried to control history and information — the for-real thought police!
I’m a fan of old-school narratives like Dracula and Lovecraft’s work, where there is a narrative within a narrative within a narrative and characters are forced to solve a mystery using notes, diaries, and letters from other characters. I really appreciate Kostova’s attempts to bring that old-school style of braided narrativity back.
However, as a writer myself, I felt like this book was someone’s like, first or second draft of the novel. It was wayyyy too long. I shudder to think how long the first draft was. Things clipped along for awhile, but somewhere in the last third of the book when Helen and Paul had to go to yet another city and look into yet another archive it was just too much. The plot as a whole needed to be shaved down and everything needed streamlining/tightening. Another issue I had, which I think speaks to the “first-draftness” of the book is that there were WAY too many characters. And not enough action overall. There were too many scenes of “and we were welcomed into this place by this colorful character, and we ate this local food that the author clearly researched.” Hand to God there was more about yogurt-based salads in this book than vampires.
I think it was a brilliant attempt, and it feels like a story that could have gone from good to amazeballs with more drafts and an editor less afraid of the red pen.