Vlad: The Last Confession by C.C. Humphreys – Book Review

Vlad: The Last Confession by C.C. Humphreys
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks

Five years after the death of Vlad Dracula, the Turks are encroaching more and more on Christian lands. If only the Order of the Dragon had not been discredited when Vlad was, it could still serve as a tool of Crusade for Christendom. In an effort to rehabilitate both Vlad and the Order of the Dragon, the three people who best knew him have been brought to one of his former castles to make confession on his behalf, telling Vlad’s story from his captivity with the Turks through the height of his power and cruelty, on to the time of his discrediting.

Vlad: The Last Confessions is the certainly the story of the ‘real’ Dracula, but more than that, it is a story of how history is written and warped to fit the needs of the victors:

The listeners had been fashioning their own Vlad, according to their needs. For Petru it was simple. he wanted the man who built the castle he commanded to be a hero; more, a Wallachian hero. He had heard of a time of justice, order, strength in his land. Of the smiting of Christ’s foes. He wanted that time again.-p. 69

At one time it was expedient for both the Turks and Hungarians to paint Vlad as a monster, but Vlad: The Last Confession posits a time when it may have been necessary for other European Christians to try to clear his name. The truth will never exonerate Vlad entirely, he was by no means a benevolent ruler, but it does shed a light on his motivations, which may have been more complex than cruelty for cruelty’s sake.

So laughed, the sound harsh. “So I have become a tale to amuse fat burghers over their suppers, and to hush their children with terror when they will not sleep,” He lifted his goblet, drank, set it down. “All I did, all the measures I took for Wallachia, against thieves and traitors and Infidels, come to this.” He jabbed a finger at the pamphlet. “Me, reduced to a blood-sucking monster.” -p. 327

The device of telling Vlad’s story through those who knew him best worked very well. In practice it meant that most of Vlad’s story could be told as a seamless narrative. The impression is that all three confidants are telling the story in an integrated fashion, picking up where another left off, coming back to the scene in the castle only when exposition is needed. Some of the scenes of war and violence got a bit old after awhile, but it would have been difficult to avoid them, as they were a very significant part of Vlad’s life.

Overall, Vlad: The Last Confession was an interesting and engaging look at the life of Vlad Dracula and how history is shaped by political needs. Recommended.

For a more in-depth discussion of the book and Humphreys’s inspiration for it, please check out my interview with him on my podcast, What’s Old is New.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, for an episode of What’s Old is New.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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A Curable Romantic by Joseph Skibell – Book Review

A Curable Romantic by Joseph Skibell
Published by Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman

Set against the backdrop of early 20th century history, in “A Curable Romantic” by Joseph Skibell, we meet Dr. Jakob Sammelsohn, a young Jewish man struggling against his traditional religious background and the scientific progress of the new century. As a young man in Vienna, he falls in love with a young woman at the opera, a woman who is both a patient of Dr. Freud and, possibly, inhabited by a dybbuk of the dead wife Jakob never loved. As he continues to grapple with the inherent contradictions in his life, Sammelsohn is involved first with Dr. Freud, then with the Esperanto movement.

One of my favorite things about historical fiction is learning about topics about which I know nothing. Enter: the society around Dr. Freud and the Esperanto movement. Skibell does a fantastic job of making the time and place come alive. I felt that I could get a firm grasp on the broad historical strokes surrounding both Freud’s early work and the history of the Esperanto movement, and how both of these things attempted to bridge a gap between a past their leaders would see as superstitious and a future that might look upon both of them as naive. I also appreciated the look  at the role of Jews in European society that felt real, without seeming too much like Skibell was trying to get across A. Message. My only qualm with this book is that it was 600 pages long, which was perhaps a little longer than it really needed to  be.

Interesting, well-written, informative historical fiction. Recommended.

Thanks to Beth Fish Reads, who has helped me to become more aware of the imprints I love over the past year, beginning with her Amy Einhorn Perpetual Challenge. Follow her blog for regular spotlights of some of her favorite imprints.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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