The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

Welcome back everyone! Last week got kind of crazy in the mornings, so this review had to wait until today. But I’ll have one more {maybe two, if I finish the book in time} this week, so no worries. Book loving is coming back in full force this week.

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Title: The Shadow Land {496 pgs}

Genre: Mystery

Publication Date: April 11, 2017

Summary:

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 oppression and she will find out all too quickly that this knowledge is fraught with its own danger.

Elizabeth Kostova’s first book, The Historian, fell into my hands more than a decade ago, and since then, I’ve been in love with everything she does. She deftly combines history and the present in a way that makes me want to learn everything I can about what she’s writing about. The Shadow Land was no exception.

Alexandra arrives in Bulgaria a month before her teaching post, so she can acclimate herself to the new land and distance herself from the untimely death of her brother, a death that has hung about her neck like an albatross. Her first day in Sofia, however, she ends up with a small suitcase that does not belong to her, a case which holds the ashes of one Stoyan Lazarov. She meets Bobby, a taxi driver with his own private past and a penchant for protesting, especially against Kurilkov, the front-runner for prime minister of Bulgaria based on his “no corruption” campaign. Together, Alexandra and Bobby travel through Bulgaria in order to find the Lazarovi family so they can return the ashes. But finding them is an adventure all its own.

If you’ve ever read any Elizabeth Kostova books, then you know the plot unfolds slowly, with plenty of history and backstory to give the reader the proper sense of weight for this adventure. This story may have revolved around Alexandra, but it was also Stoyan’s story, his life and the hardships he had to endure because of one chance encounter. Stoyan reveals his life at work camps after World War II, how he learned to survive by dreaming of a son he never had and practicing his violin in his head. His journal tells stories about the other workers, the men who kept Stoyan alive, about the soldiers who worked them to death and their lack of compassion for the skeletons, as Stoyan calls themselves.

One of the aspects of this novel that made me cheer out loud was that Alexandra and Bobby were just friends. That’s right, a man and a woman on an adventure in beautiful Bulgaria…were just friends. Of course, there’s a reason for that, but I loved their friendship so much. They had only known each other for a few days before you could tell that they cared deeply for one another. Theirs was a kind of adventure that could cement a friendship for life.

Bobby was fun, always keeping the mood upbeat and trying to help Alexandra even when their lives were in danger. Alexandra was kind of fanciful, a young woman stuck slightly in a moment of adolescence that she desperately wanted out of. The people they met on the way – Baba Yano, Milen Radev, Neven – were full of life of their own, quirks either covered or exacerbated by age and the lives they had led.

Oh, and Bulgaria. I’ve never been interested in Bulgaria, but after reading the descriptions of Elizabeth Kostova, it’s on my list now. And she didn’t confine herself to the beauty of the country, but made sure to include every kind of nook and cranny. Bobby was a great history teacher, too, giving us tidbits of information about his country as they drove around searching for the Lazarovi’s.

If I had a complaint, it would be the end, but that’s because I’m insane and require an immense amount of revenge. It was a fantastic ending, pretty satisfying, but after reading Stoyan’s story, I wanted more. I can’t go into it because of spoilers, but let’s just say that if there had been some kind of medieval torture device brought out, I would have been happy.

Still, if you love a good mystery and lush writing, then you should definitely pick up The Shadow Land. A warning, though: once you pick this up, then you’re going to have to go get The Historian and The Swan Thieves.

You’re welcome.

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