Blood Countess by Lana Popovic
A historical YA horror novel based on the infamous real-life inspiration for Countess Dracula
In 17th century Hungary, Anna Darvulia has just begun working as a scullery maid for the young and glamorous Countess Elizabeth Báthory. When Elizabeth takes a liking to Anna, she’s vaulted to the dream role of chambermaid, a far cry from the filthy servants’ quarters below. She receives wages generous enough to provide for her family, and the Countess begins to groom Anna as her friend and confidante. It’s not long before Anna falls completely under the Countess’s spell—and the Countess takes full advantage. Isolated from her former friends, family, and fiancé, Anna realizes she’s not a friend but a prisoner of the increasingly cruel Elizabeth. Then come the murders, and Anna knows it’s only a matter of time before the Blood Countess turns on her, too.
A book about Elizabeth Bathory? I had to request it. It sounds weird to say I love Elizabeth Bathory because she was a monster. But I loved reading about her and learning her story. While this book is about Elizabeth Bathory, it’s more about Anna, a poor 16 year old girl.
Anna helps her mom, a midwife. She also works with herbs for ailments. Some people call her a witch, but it gets the attention of Elizabeth Bathory who has a secret son from before her marriage. Anna is able to save him and Elizabeth sends for Anna to come work for her. After her abusive father refuses, he ends up dead. Anna knows the family can’t survive without money, so she goes off on her own to the countess’s home. Anna is refused, so she agrees to work at the bottom and is determined to get into Elizabeth’s favor. She left her family and her best friend that wanted to marry her. Anna was afraid of marriage caging her. Also, while she thought Peter was handsome, she just never felt attraction to him.
Anna hears stories about servants going missing and abuse they’ve received from Elizabeth. But she can’t believe it. The Elizabeth Anna saw before was nothing but kind. Elizabeth’s husband was another story. He was abusive and controlling like her father was. After doing something she was ashamed of, Anna was finally able to work as Elizabeth’s chambermaid. She quickly becomes her favorite after making something to help with cramps. (Yay for books that talk about periods and/or pregnancy.) Anna is kind to Elizabeth, always trying to find ways to make her happy. In return, Elizabeth starts spending almost all her time with Anna. They begin a relationship and Anna realizes that why she wasn’t attracted to Peter. The book implies that she’s a lesbian and Elizabeth is likely bisexual. Anna falls in love with Elizabeth and believes Elizabeth loves her, too. She spoils her, they eat together, even travel to another home together.
Anna sees some cruelty in Elizabeth early on, but she makes excuses for her. She is likely acting out because her husband is a monster. It doesn’t take long before Anna realizes that the real monster is Elizabeth and she is trapped. There are a lot of internal debates that Anna has. Her head and heart tell her two different things. She longs to help people, but Elizabeth makes her hurt them instead. Anna doesn’t know what to do to keep her family safe while escaping from Elizabeth who won’t let her leave alive. The threats are enough to make Anna stay.
Anyone who knows the “story” of Elizabeth Bathory knows that it was said she bathed in human blood. This Elizabeth is 19 and is terrified of growing old. She thinks she already has wrinkles forming. Appearance is everything. In the beginning, she’s using animal blood mixed with milk (I believe). The human blood comes very late in the book. It’s more of a story of a young, impressionable girl that falls in love for the first time. Anna and her internal struggles. The book is very dark with abuse, murder, and blood. It doesn’t really read as horror though.
I gave this book 4 1/2 stars rounded up to 5. I would have liked a bit more of Elizabeth, but overall, the writing and story were well done. The pacing was also fairly fast. Thank you to the publisher, Amulet, for sending me a physical copy for review.
Is this book on your TBR? Do you know much about Elizabeth Bathory?