Four Star Fridays: “The Shadow Land” by Elizabeth Kostova

I realize that this is only the second installment of my newborn Four Star Fridays series but I’m noticing a trend that I’m curious to see if it will continue. The trend is this…

I give four stars to books that leave me wanting more.

Does this make sense to anyone? It’s basically what my Goodreads review from last week’s book said (thanks Goodreads, for facilitating this new series by recording me forever!) and it’s flat out what my problem with this week’s book was.

That book, before I digress further, is The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova.

It was the second novel by Elizabeth Kostova that I’ve read (I see she’s got three so I’m going on Amazon right now to see about the third). I loved The Historian, all three times that I’ve read it. It was one of the strangest takes on Dracula that I’ve ever encountered but it’s become a sort of canon to me.

But… The Shadow Land… this book is about an American woman who travels to Bulgaria, for reasons I admit to having forgotten precisely – I feel like it was tragedy in her family but I could be wrong, and is quickly caught up in a web of intrigue and drama when she picks up the wrong suitcase by mistake at the airport. It’s a thriller and it’s a mystery but that’s not where this novel’s value really lies. The value of this book, for me (who is wholly addicted to anything marketed as historical fiction), is in the Bulgarian aspect of the story. Kostova has lived, or maybe lives, in Bulgaria so she easily transports a reader to the places her story takes them. She knows the folklore and the legends and the history, and she weaves all of that into a plot that is incredibly complicated and yet incredibly readable.

I always want a book to teach me something. Even novels. If a book makes me want to delve deeper into a subject, fall down the proverbial rabbit holes, then it is a good book that has done a good job. The Shadow Land did that. I learned more about Bulgaria than I ever knew before and I spent time after I finished the book looking for more about the country and it’s history.

What stopped The Shadow Land short of being a five star book to me was that the conclusion of the story was rushed and forced, for the sake of a happy ending. The novel skipped between Present and Past, and I’d have read both books were they separate. The characters in the novel were so good that, somehow, they deserved more.

Do you know what I mean?

Anyway, I’m off to probably buy Elizabeth Kostova’s middle book.

If you like historical fiction and want to check Bulgaria off your “places I’ve traveled via books” bucket list (I’m not the only one who has that, am I?), give this book a try!

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