New Release – The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova 2.5/5 stars

Scrappymags 3-word review: I got bored.

Shortest summary ever: Alexandra arrives in Bulgaria to engage in touristy fun travel before starting a job teaching English. She wanders into the city, aids a woman who almost falls and winds up with someone’s cremation ashes. This leads her to befriend her cabbie – Bobby, who speaks remarkable English, and they embark on a back and forth across the country adventure searching for the people who lost the ashes, falling into a strange mystery along the way.

What’s good under the hood: First you should know this is my favorite genre – historical fiction mysteries. Give me these any day and I’ll roll in them like a happy beagle in a pile of good smelling garbage (maybe that’s just my beagle?). Expectations high. I loved the descriptions of Bulgaria. I’m not opposed to longer, narrative descriptions when done well (Just don’t go all Steinbeck on my ass). I even looked up the locales on the map, so that’s a plus in the “piqued my interest” category. I enjoyed looking at pics of Bulgaria and obtaining the “feel” Alexandra must have felt for the country. Beautiful. Kostova is

wonderfully talented at this writing and I 5-starred her previous novel The Historian because I thought it was a perfect balance of accurate, vivid description and engaging mystery. The Shadow Land fell short of that expectation. The mystery aspect was clunky and lacking interest (from me). I stopped caring (not a good sign). The story flips point of view and setting (time and place) so multiple narratives are presented. The ashes of Stoyan Lazarov turn into the most interesting part – his story. What he endured, and that historical fiction is what I love and Kostova does well, but the awkward, muddled mystery aspect with Alexandra and Bobby’s adventure turned me off.

What’s bad or made me mad: 1. The premise from the start isn’t believable. A single female, 20’s is

going to befriend a cabbie and then take off with him in a country where she knows no one (including how to speak the language) to return ashes? That’s the beginning. I can suspend disbelief, so I accepted this early on. 2. However, the sub-storyline of how Alexandra lost her brother didn’t make much sense (not a spoiler!!!) It explains what she’s doing in Bulgaria, but an explanation isn’t needed, and the development of that story didn’t happen for me. I wanted to answer the question, “Why am I hearing about this dead brother?” and never felt a satisfactory answer. It didn’t parallel anything. Wasn’t a metaphor, that I could detect, so I felt that sub-story wasn’t needed. Maybe a red herring? Regardless, I felt it unnecessary. 3. The back-and-forth across the country. Oy. I wound up feeling like “ENOUGH.” Going back to places they already were. I wanted to flip ahead. I was bored. Really bored.

Recommend to:

  • Those who love historical fiction/mystery like me SHOULD give this a go. Honestly, I often love books others despise and vice versa, so you’ll have to give it a go to see for yourself.
  • Anyone interested in Bulgarian tourism. Seriously – if you are like me and love to hear descriptions of places, etc. and then find yourself Googling them. This is for you.

Do Not Recommend to:

  • Anyone who wants a “quick and easy” book. This ain’t the one, hon.
  • Anyone who isn’t interested in a generally sad book. Not cheery.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. Still love you, just not this book.

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