When I saw an ARC of Elizabeth Kostova’s new novel available for request on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to read it because her earlier novel THE HISTORIAN is one of my top… twenty-five favorite books of all time. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to read it, and I apologize to Ms. Kostova and the publisher for this late review.
As with THE HISTORIAN, THE SHADOW LAND has skips from past to present and back again. This isn’t the easiest thing to follow until you get used to it, because you have to get used to it or you risk missing an important, powerful story.
I won’t compare this novel to the other Kostova book I read any more than that. This one stands alone and it was simply that one that made me want to read this one.
The lead character, Alexandra, comes off as awfully naive, almost to the point of being cliched in her innocent-American-caught-up-in-European-intrigue storyline. The lead man in the story is more original and interesting, though it’s vaguely irritating that he proclaims to be so proud of his Bulgarian heritage but insists that he be called Bobby instead of Aspurah.
One thing it is easy to love about this novel is that, once again, Kostova manages to weave intricate, not well-known Eastern European history into a fascinating story without having the story end up too heavy with historical facts and figures or too light and uneducated. I’ve never learned so much about Bulgaria as I did reading this book and I thank the author for that. That being said, I went into the story expecting folklore (sorry, one more reference to THE HISTORIAN) but I was pleasantly surprised it went into the Communist history of Bulgaria, and of Europe as a whole, instead. This is, as an added bonus, the first book I’ve ever read set in Bulgaria!
Here’s the thing about THE SHADOW LAND, in conclusion –
I would read the story of the Past, of Stoyan Lazarov and his wife and family as they struggled to survive communism. And I would read the story of American Alexandra and Bulgarian Bobby, of their fight to right wrongs and find healing and love. But I am not 100% convinced that the two stories meld together as well as they should. It’s almost… too much coincidence, luck, and circumstance that Alexandra ends up caring what happened to Stoyan. Basically, I want two books instead of one. Which is always a good thing!
The conclusion of the story (as opposed to my conclusion above, it seems) is a little disjointed because of the separate stories. The Bad Guy is the same in both timelines, in both stories, and that’s a good thing. But Alexandra ends up sort of tossed into what is obviously supposed to be a meaningful relationship with a very minor character, making their love lose some of it’s oomph, and Bobby hardly gets an ending at all.
I cared about these people and I want them to have more, darn it!
Overall, though, it’s a good book and it gets four stars from me for Bulgarian history.
I received a copy of THE SHADOW LAND through NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own, my review is posted on my blog, on Goodreads, and on NetGalley.