Elizabeth Kostova’s latest novel, The Shadow Land, is described as a engrossing tale which unearths the mystery of Bulgaria, a beautiful and haunting country. Honestly, I would have never picked it up if I had read the book sleeve. I have anticipated her next novel for quite some time, as I am a big fan of her work. This one just didn’t have the same vibe as her other works.
This story starts off very slow so it requires patience. We meet Alexandra, a teacher who just arrived in Bulgaria to teach, when she mistakenly finds someone else’s luggage in her possession. (Of course,) she opens the case to find an urn containing some ashes. The plot is focused on her journey to find these strangers so she can return what she believes to be their only remaining memory of this person. It wasn’t believable to me from the get-go. This is a strange odyssey. I know that Kostova has a strong interest in Bulgarian culture, as she met her husband there while on a trip in the 80s. We get folktales, poetry, politics and character memories to build a very detailed story. You can tell she has a deep love for this country. But, I prefer suspense that grabs me from the beginning and keeps me breathless. Kostova isn’t that type of writer, but I still expected something much different.
I wasn’t expecting such a political storyline. I was disappointed that it didn’t have the same gothic feel that I got from The Swan Thieves or The Historian, which focused on ruin and decay and the dark side of human nature (even some supernatural elements!) The only connection to classic gothic elements in this novel is a few dodgy characters and an urn full of ashes.
Despite my dislike of the story, Kostova’s writing is beautiful. If you enjoy historical sagas about places unknown, you might enjoy this book. Just be prepared for a slow journey.
Goodreads rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to receive this eARC in exchange for my honest review.