Title: Blood Countess by Lana Popović
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Publication date: 28 January 2020
Genre: Horror | Young Adult | Romance | Historical
Page extent: 320 pages
Goodreads blurb: 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.
This book had one of the most intriguing premises of 2020 – sapphic romance with one of the most prolific female serial killers of all time?! Hell yes! I enjoyed this book, particularly the first half, but I do think it lacked a little horror. Don’t get me wrong, there is brutal torture and gorey murder in this book, but I felt like it needed more fear and tension. I wanted it to feel more terrifying and horrory.
The book is told from the POV of Anna, an impoverished healer who, when rescuing a kitten, runs into the new Lady of her land, Elizabeth Báthory. Elizabeth takes a shine to her, and employs her in her castle. What follows is a mix of witchcraft and lust and horror as Anna becomes bewitched by Elizabeth, and the slow realisation of all that Elizabeth is.
The first half of this book is excellent. The initial relationship between Anna and Elizabeth is incredible. The few hints of darkness behind Elizabeth’s facade, the way they stare at each other, how utterly bewitched it seems they are of each other, it is so beautifully done. The way Anna reacts to Fenrec, Elizabeth’s husband, and her fears he is causing the darkness in Elizabeth is both understandable and thrilling in how it causes her to react. I adored the start of their relationship and I really thought we might get an incredible villain romance.
But then the second half hit and it became a little predictable as Elizabeth begins her pursuit for youth and beauty. The ending felt very rushed compared to the first half, which languished unhurridely in the beauty of their developing relationship. I wanted more fear and terror and horror as Elizabeth deteriorated. I wanted to feel some of the passion from the first half of the book. Instead it just felt a little lucklustre in execution, just a little too descriptive to be impactful. All of the torture and murder scenes in particular lacked for me. It felt rather stilted. I understand this might be because this is a YA novel, and the need to keep it less gruesome and terrifying because of that. So perhaps this would have worked better as an adult when the true horror of Elizabeth could really be explored with more emotional impact.
Blood Countess was one I wanted to adore. And I think I would have if the passion and fire from the first half of the novel continued to the second half. But sadly, it didn’t and it got a little too rushed to be a satisfying ending. This is still definitely worth a read through, for the beautiful and incredible development of the sapphic romance.
Rach + Draco