Review: Blood Countess
If you haven’t heard of Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Wikipedia) you’ve missed out on a fascinating true story from history. Because she was born in 1560, our understanding of the events that surrounded her life are a little sketchy, but we do know she was beautiful, well-educated, rich, and well-connected. And she was accused of killing 600 girls.
Lana Popovic decided it was a story worthy of trying to tell in BLOOD COUNTESS.
The novel is told from peasant midwife-in-training Anna’s POV. She’s young, but her life has been hard with an abusive father and a disabled mother. The money she can earn from her new skills could make the difference. When the newly married Countess Bathory rides triumphant through town with her new husband, Anna and Elizabeth meet by chance–and connects their fates. Anna finds herself called on to heal Elizabeth’s sick son, and is sworn to secrecy because he was born to another man before Elizabeth married her husband. When Anna is called to the castle to become a servant in Elizabeth’s household, Anna believes the only way she can earn enough money is to become one of Elizabeth’s chambermaids–and schemes to do just that. But when she succeeds, events take a turn she never expects. At first, there’s the glow of thinking one has found a bosom companion. But then Anna begins to discover Elizabeth’s true character.
The best part of this book is the psychology involved: Anna being sucked into Elizabeth’s world, Elizabeth’s manipulation of the people around her, Elizabeth’s seemingly erratic behavior, the descent of Elizabeth’s behavior. Anna is blinded by Elizabeth’s beauty, intelligence, and the seductions of riches and love. Anna wants to believe the best in Elizabeth because Elizabeth’s words lead Anna to believe that she is treasured and loved, and Elizabeth spoils her with dresses, food, and friendship. Anna, the naïve country girl only thinks of the money that’s going to her starving family–and money becomes the very thing that keeps her attached to Elizabeth when things start to go awry.
Anna believes she can help Elizabeth, that the countess is the victim of an abusive husband. This bit of psychology is vital to the story because we wonder how Anna can stay by Elizabeth’s side as she tortures and kills innocent girls. Eventually Anna cracks and Elizabeth whisks her away to Castle Csejte (the famous tourist attraction because the bodies of girls were found buried in the orchard and were dug up for the trial) where the story takes a grisly turn.
BLOOD COUNTESS by Lana Popovic re-imagines the story of the most prolific lady serial killer in history: the Countess Lady Elizabeth Bathory.
Popovic does an admirable job with the characters, their motivations, personalities (especially Elizabeth’s behavior), and the castle settings. It’s easy to visualize the locales and the character movement and behavior.
But ultimately this book was not aimed at me. I like a good horror story sometimes, but I had trouble really enjoying this for a few reasons–and I think for the most part these aren’t things the target audience will be bothered by, so I’ll keep my issues brief. One is the prose, which is more a personal preference, but I found it so florid that I spent the entire book being drawn to the adjectives more than the story itself; I’ve always been a proponent of excellent prose, but it needs to tell the story, not draw away from it. I can’t help but think that the prose was used as word count padding because the plot was straightforward and simple. But that might not be fair; I read and finished WOOL by Hugh Howey before this and the target audiences are similar, but that storyline was twisty, complicated, and subtle. In comparison, BLOOD COUNTESS is based on an old story that we can look up on Wikipedia (so there are obvious spoilers), but Popovic over-simplifies the plotline when it could have a little more meat to it. I suppose I was disappointed she didn’t take it further.
Overall, it’s an interesting study in the psychology of a woman with serious issues, and those teenagers interested in the gruesome aspects will likely enjoy it.
- Recommended Age: 16+
- Language: Minor
- Violence: Torture and death, minor detail
- Sex: F/F relationship with references
Series links: Lady Slayers
- # 1: Blood Countess —This Review —Amazon —Audible —Bookshop.org