(Amulet Books, 2020)
By Lana Popovic
“Sick puppy,” says I, Kimber the Magnificent.
“No kidding,” Mom rejoins. “Seriously off her rocker.”
I’m not sure what a “rocker” is. But the antagonist in this book, Countess Elizabeth Bathory of Hungary, is off it by about a mile and a half.
This is a weird book to peg or review. Mom started it the other night. She kept me up until one in the morning finishing it. Ugh!
It’s a gripping read. For sure.
Set in 16th century Hungary, the story is told from the point of view of sixteen year-old Anna Darvulia. She’s the daughter of a village midwife. Anna is skilled in the use of herbs and healing. She catches the countess’s eye when Lady Nut Case goes riding through Anna’s village in a carriage and Anna races out of the crowd to save a kitten from being run over.
After the death of Anna’s loutish smithy father, she receives a summons from Lady Nut Case. LNC wants Anna to be her chambermaid. You don’t turn down Lady Nut Case. She takes pleasure in other people’s pain. The Countess could give the Marquise de Sade a run for his money any day of the week. And twice on Sunday.
Supremely manipulative and darkly sinister, the countess catches Anna in her mesmerizing web of deceit, betrayal, murder, and unspeakable cruelty. It’s enough to make your blood run cold.
When servants start disappearing as the Countess descends into further madness, Anna knows it’s only a matter of time before LNC turns on her, too. To survive, Anna must best the wicked countess at her own game, using nothing but her knowledge of healing and herbs and her own wits.
It’s villainy at its most vile. Frankly, this book made me (Mom) want to throw up. Like I needed to wash my eyes out with soap after the last page. Or even before. Kimber: Gag me with Meow Mix!
But here’s the dichotomy. Revolting as this story of beguilement and pure evil is, it’s very well written. Intense, compelling, and searing at times, the prose practically leaps off the page. The characters are exceptionally well-drawn, from Anna’s childhood best friend, Peter the faithful, to the scullery maids, Anna’s loving but penniless mother, and the countess’s chambermaids, Judit and Margareta, Anna’s unfortunate predecessors.
So it’s kind of yuck with a caveat. Other caveat: Mom didn’t choose this book. A librarian tucked it into her “grab bag.” (You give them some broad categories of preferred genres and styles. They fill up a ‘grab bag’ with titles they think will mesh.) They know she enjoys YA. But not this stuff.
In the Acknowledgements, the author wonders about the countess:
“Why would she so heedlessly commit such atrocities against her own gender. What drove her on, spurred this unslakable bloodlust? Was she deranged, evil, somehow tormented… or something even darker and more unfathomable than that?”
There’s an answer to that. You can find it, among other places, in one of our favorite books: Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul. By John and Stasi Eldredge. If you’re going to take on Blood Countess, we highly recommend following it up with Captivating. Just sayin’.
Our rating for Blood Countess: 2.0
Our rating for Captivating: 5.0
Halloween and lantern image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain