11 January 2017

Review: The Countess - A Novel of Elizabeth Bathory by Rebecca Johns

Some of you may know of the Blood Countess or the Countess Dracula, the most prolific female serial killer of all time. Born in the Kingdom of Hungary in 1560, she was accused of killing hundreds of young women and some accounts say she murdered up to 650 victims.

When she was eventually caught and faced trial in 1609, she was walled up in a tower in solitary confinement until her death five years later in 1614. It was said Bathory bathed in the blood of her victims to preserve her beauty, but where does fact end and folklore begin?

Author Rebecca Johns attempts to address this in her fictionalised account of Elizabeth Bathory's life in her historical novel The Countess.

Johns takes us through Bathory's childhood growing up in a noble family in 16th Century Hungary, and walks us through her life in a first person narrative. We see her mature from a young girl and face fear, self-doubt, loneliness, love, heartbreak, loss, grief, anger and frustration.

Johns paints a clear picture of the responsibilities of a Countess to run several households and the disappointment and betrayal Bathory feels when her maidservants steal from her or sleep with her husband. Bathory beats them and many of them die, and we get a unique insight during all of this with privileged access to her - albeit fictionalised - thoughts.

What The Countess doesn't do (and cannot do) is respond to, answer or address the accusations Bathory ever bathed in blood. Many of these myths and accounts of Bathory occurred long after her death and it's difficult to address in a fictionalised account of an historical figure, but perhaps this could have been accomplished by a Author's Note at the end.

Countess Elizabeth Bathory's life and crimes have inspired countless artists to reference her in novels, comics, stage plays, operas, songs, TV shows, movies, and even video games. (Don't believe me? Check it out on Wikipedia).

I enjoyed this account of Bathory's life in The Countess, but I finished reading it with a feeling her crimes had been blown out of all proportion, and she wasn't the devil incarnate. Perhaps that was the point all along.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

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