April 10, 2017

Book Review: The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

Publication Date: April 11, 2017

Source: Netgalley

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.

Although The Shadow Land has no supernatural elements, I found that it echoed many of the elements that made The Historian such an addictive and compelling novel. Vampires aside, The Shadow Land returns to Bulgaria and delves deep into a dark era of its modern history.  Through Alexandra's fresh eyes, the reader experiences Bulgaria's haunted beauty. Like The Historian, our protagonist suddenly finds herself in the midst of a quest - to return an urn she had accidentally come to possess.  However, this innocent good deed soon sets in motion a series of increasingly sinister events. 

She is helped in her quest by a taxi driver who has secrets of his own.  Together, they discover what happened to a famous Bulgarian musician whose ashes are in the urn. Through their attempts to return his ashes, Alexandra and Bobby travel all over Bulgaria, meeting people, each of whom gives insight about the bigger picture.

The reader might ask - where is this all leading up to?  The terrible past and sinister present converge with a shocking ending.  However, a character which had been off-stage for 90% of the narrative re-enters for a surprisingly romantic last chapter.  

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