Published October 12th 2010 by Crown.
I am pretty familiar with Elizabeth Bathory. The Hungarian noble is notoriously remembered as “The Blood Countess”. History and true crime books call her the “most prolific female serial killer in history”. Also, some books mention that she is the female Dracula, saying she used to bathe in the blood of virgins to preserve her youth. Whatever else she’s known for, her reputation can be described in one word: gruesome.
I did not plan to read this book originally. I had other things lined up to kick off 2012 including two that were given to me for review purposes (and their release dates are darn close but whatever). I saw this on the shelves at Target and I was instantly intrigued. Immediately, I thought of another Dracula-related book, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which I loved. The cover is rather minimal but there’s something about it that grabbed me. And I haven’t read anything about Elizabeth Bathory yet.
(Elizabeth Bathory is one of my favorite serial killers. Really. I just said that.)
The book serves as a fictionalized memoir of the Countess told in first person through her letters to her youngest child, Pal. She writes the letters while imprisoned in her room on orders of the palatine. The book starts and ends in that room:
“Was I wrong to treat them thus? Was it not my right, as the mistress of the house, to punish them as I saw fit?” – Part Two, Chapter Twenty-five.
The author captured the unapologetic and vulnerable tone of Bathory. Elizabeth Bathory had a lot of power but at the same time, she was very flawed and alone. In her narration, she never once felt remorse. She justified her actions as she saw fit. Her jealously, her grief, greed… all became denial. All these made her more terrifying. She was capable of doing horrific acts of depraved cruelty with no emotion; sometimes blacking out the whole episode because of anger. It was so well-researched. The voice was consistent all throughout the book. It made Bathory seem more human than an exaggerated, almost fictional version of herself. (Honestly, if you’ve read up on her, you have to stop and wonder could one person be really capable of the things she allegedly did.)
The author used the original Hungarian spelling (and what I would guess, pronunciation). It didn’t bother me much but I would’ve wanted to be able to say the names in my head as I read on. There is a pronunciation guide in the beginning but I didn’t see the point of flipping back and forth. Also, the overall pace of the book is rather on the slow side. There was a lot of explanations, detailing this and that. Some paragraphs were very long. I found myself just skimming through the location descriptions because they weren’t really helpful in the bigger scheme of things.
Also, it did not dwell so much on her “crimes”. Or at least, they weren’t explained in depth. It seemed as though Bathory was narrating them as if they were nothing. I guess what I am trying to say is the author did a darn good job of establishing Elizabeth Bathory’s voice; definitely my favorite aspect of this book.
Recommendation: A worthy addition to historical fiction lover’s shelf. It also speaks to fans of vampire myth (more on the Anne Rice genre than Stephenie Meyer) and fans of dark and gothic POV storytelling.
Get your copy here.