Blood Countess by Lana Popović (Review)

Instead, I’m here; I’m hers. And now that I’ve steeped in the fragrant darkness of Elizabeth’s chambers, I’ll never let myself sink back to these rancid depths.

This had been on my radar for a while, of course. Blood, a mysterious monstrous woman and her companion, sapphic yearning and a touch of magic and murder. It was everything I needed in a book, and it didn’t disappoint me when I finally got hold of a copy.

Rating: 4 stars!

Read me for the:

  • Monster women doing monster things
  • Things are Not As They Should Be
  • Sapphic yearning
  • Elizabeth Báthory, the Countess of Blood
  • So much murder and witchcraft

The plot:

In 16th 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.

What did I think?

This was the kind of book that the entire time you’re reading it, you’re waiting for things to keep getting worse. Which, they do. Anna is not in for a fun time during this book. I really liked the way the narration worked in this book. We were following Anna and seeing Elizabeth through her eyes, yet I still had a strong sense of ‘something isn’t right’ the entire time. It made for a fun and unnerving read, where I wanted to shout through the page at Anna to make her put together the same clues that I was piecing together. Anna was a great main character and so easy to empathise with because she really, truly wanted to do good. And yet. Watching her get suckered into Elizabeth’s aura, seeing her get drawn into her web and begin to justify and reason away her actions, made for a horridly dark and intoxicating read. As we see Elizabeth turn from a charming sweetheart into manipulative monster, it made me wonder whether she really was getting worse, or if she’d always been that way and if me as the reader was as blind as Anna in the face of her charms.

This book is pretty dark and gory, and that’s no surprise given that it covers the history of Elizabeth Báthory. There’s death and torture and frankly far too many and varied ways to use blood, but what I found really stuck out was the way the book handled toxic relationships. How we can see toxic relationships in others, then miss the signs in our own relationships, and the idea that if people are forced into horrible deeds, how do we measure their own culpability and responsibility for their actions? The relationship between Elizabeth and Anna grows from friendship to love then takes a dark turn into possession and ownership, and though the topics here are gory and gothic and most people aren’t dating highly prolific serial killers (I hope!), the red flags that Elizabeth shows and Anna sometimes sees and sometimes overlooks are important ones to be shown in fiction and highlighted as problematic.

The ending was a little abrupt, but honestly? I didn’t mind that so much. To me the real joy in this book was the beautifully gothic way it unfolded, and how we saw characters twist and change under the influence of a powerful, cruel and manipulative leader. The story was so quick to read and the ending was satisfying and neatly tied, if a little convenient. Honestly, my only real disappointment is that I’d have loved this book to be adult instead of YA, because I wanted more blood and gore and gross-ness.

Links:

Add it on Goodreads here!

Buy at Hive if you can and support your local indie booksellers! Also available at Waterstones and Amazon.

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