The Shadow Land
by Elizabeth Kostova
Penguin Random House | Ballantine Books
Formats available: Hardback, Paperback, Electronic, Audio
Pub Date: 3.13.18| 512 pages
REVIEWER: Sophia Rose
Paper copy provided by publisher for review. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
From the #1 bestselling author of The Historian comes a mesmerizing novel that spans the past and the present—and unearths the troubled history of a gorgeous but haunted country.
A young American woman, Alexandra Boyd, has traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, hoping that life abroad will salve the wounds left by the loss of her beloved brother. Soon after arriving in this elegant East European city, however, she helps an elderly couple into a taxi—and realizes too late that she has accidentally kept one of their bags. Inside she finds an ornately carved wooden box engraved with a name: Stoyan Lazarov. Raising the hinged lid, she discovers that she is holding an urn filled with human ashes.
As Alexandra sets out to locate the family and return this precious item, she will first have to uncover the secrets of a talented musician who was shattered by political oppression—and she will find out all too quickly that this knowledge is fraught with its own danger.
Elizabeth Kostova’s new novel is a tale of immense scope that delves into the horrors of a century and traverses the culture and landscape of this mysterious country. Suspenseful and beautifully written, it explores the power of stories, the pull of the past, and the hope and meaning that can sometimes be found in the aftermath of loss.
Have you ever read a fiction book where the story is almost incidental to your enjoyment of the reading experience you just got? I’m talking about writing voice, tone, setting, and historical context that wrap around the story and character. This author’s books are like that for me. Granted, this is only my second book (I will go back for you, Swan Thieves, promise), but I felt that way about The Historian years ago. Now, not to say that the characters and actual story which unfolds in The Shadow Land is not a pleasure, because that part is vibrant and colorful for the reader, too.
I picked this one up for two reasons. I fell in love with The Historian. It had paranormal elements, but it was the depth of history and the journey that took the heroine from the present into the past that was the real engaging part for me. I wanted more of that and I definitely wanted more of the author’s wealth of knowledge about Eastern Europe, particularly Bulgaria, to show me a world to which I’m nearly ignorant. Happily, the book achieved both for me.
The heroine, Alexandria, has come to Bulgaria from America as a teacher, but she soon finds herself on a quest to return a carved box with ashes to a family when their bags accidentally got entangled. Her journey is also the opportunity for her and the reader to learn about Bulgaria’s dark and tragic past through this family when the author brings in the secondary storyline set in the past and switches back and forth with that one and Alexandra’s. Alexandra is on this quest not just to do a good deed, but a penance of sorts because of the guilt she feels over her brother’s death and feeling she could have done more for his troubled spirit while he was alive.
There is complexity in the stories and characters. The historical elements and descriptions of settings along with the way the author brings the reader right into that part of the world and its people is achieved through words and pace that may be too slow for some tastes. I get this because, while I love this author’s writing, I can easily set down the book, get distracted, and take longer than I usually do to get through a story. But, the author has me enthralled because I do not mind at all that I can love this book without describing it as unputdownable. I think if a reader approaches the book with that mindset then they will do all right.
So, it was a second triumph and I need to go back for Swan Thieves at some point and hope there are many more new releases to come. I think this one best suits historical fiction, women’s fiction, and travel fiction readers.
My thanks to Penguin-Random House for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
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