**The Shadow Land will be released Tuesday, April 11th!**
The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova. Ballantine Books, 2017. 496 pages.
Well, I'm not sure where to start this review, so I'm going to start with my pre-reading expectations. When I realized that Elizabeth Kostova had a new book coming out, I was beyond thrilled. I'm sure a lot of reviews for The Shadow Land are going to mention what is arguably Kostova's most highly regarded work, The Historian, which I truly loved. I was so excited to see what Kostova would bring to the table with this promising new book, but after reading The Shadow Land, I'm fairly disappointed. I've seen so many four- and five-star reviews for this book that I just feel like I'm missing something or not quite getting it.
The story centers around Alexandra, a young woman who takes a job at a Bulgarian university in which she will teach English. Once she arrives in Bulgaria, however, she accidentally mixes up some luggage with some people she comes across and ends up with a container full of the cremated remains of an unknown person. The entire rest of the story is basically her journey to find the relatives of the man who has died. It's a somewhat hard to believe scenario, but hey, this is fiction-land, so it could happen, right?
The biggest issues I had with this book were the paper-thin plot and the characters, which are two pretty important parts of a book. The plot was ended up being so hard to suspend my belief for, and I tried to justify this with the fact that this book is much more character-driven and seemed to be more about their journey and development, but not even the characters were enough to convince me. There was also a lot of description, and while I'm cool with some in-depth, descriptive writing, this just became too clunky.
Alexandra Boyd, our protagonist, was frankly quite dull to me. She had some strong moments, but for the most part I just found her incredible naive and really quite inept in her many interactions with people. The positive aspect of Alexandra's character was her development, as I felt that she underwent some strong emotional journeys within this book as she came to terms with some of the familial issues of her past. (And as a side note: The amount of times people commented that her name was Russian frustrated me to no end.)
Bobby, a taxi driver that Alexandra meets and becomes close friends with, was a much more interesting character for me. I was much more intrigued by his ever-present mysteriousness and ease at handling a variety of situations, both dangerous and otherwise. In contrast, I felt that he was portrayed as far more mysterious than he actually was.
The last notable character I'd like to mention is Stoyan Lazarov himself, the man whose remains are found by Alexandra. I was very intrigued by his tragic tale, and though I did feel it dragged on a bit too long at times, it still deeply fulfilling and full of wonderfully written character development.
An aspect of this book that I loved was the setting of Bulgaria. Kostova really seems to capture the beauty and atmosphere of Bulgaria without trying to cover up any aspect of the country. This book made me want to visit Bulgaria and learn more about it, and this interest and newfound knowledge of Bulgaria is something that will certainly stay with me.
Overall, I've given The Shadow Land three stars. On the one hand, this was a moving, deeply emotional story. On the other, it dragged and was unrealistic. If you enjoy a slow-paced, intricately told story with character-focused storylines, then I do recommend you check this out. If you're expecting something similar to The Historian, you should put those expectations aside and read this as its own book.
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