What begins as a fairy-tale opportunity to escape a mundane world quickly turns to violence and terror in Lana Popović's vivid and seductive YA novel set in 16th-century Hungary.
When 16-year-old healer Anna Darvulia becomes the Countess Elizabeth Báthory's chambermaid, she can't believe her good fortune: here is an opportunity to support her poor family, escape her father's brutality, and avoid an unwanted betrothal. Ignoring rumors of the Countess's violent tendencies, Anna forges ahead in her new position and finds her lady amiable, with a "curious, attentive nature; a tart, ready wit; and an insatiable mind." Friendship quickly turns to forbidden romance as Anna falls into the "delicious, honeyed madness" of first love. Passion, though, cannot shield Anna from the ever-increasing brutality Elizabeth bestows upon her female servants. Calculating and emotionally manipulative, Elizabeth draws her new conquest close to conceal the violent truth, but the horror of Anna's situation becomes too much to deny. Fearing for her family's safety--"I am terrified of her, of who she truly is"--Anna becomes an unwilling accomplice to Elizabeth's bloody acts and "rampant darkness."
Popović's (Wicked Like a Wildfire) YA historical thriller Blood Countess is a fictionalized account of the real Countess Elizabeth Báthory, accused of the serial murder of hundreds of young women. The author explores Elizabeth's passions, developing her into a full-bodied character and making the true depths of her bloodlust worse for the humanizing contrast. Anna's own journey, beginning in determination and love, spirals into grief, guilt and revulsion as she becomes ever more complicit in Elizabeth's violence. Self-sacrificing healer Anna and narcissistic murderess Elizabeth are effective foils, and Popović skillfully weaves them together in a suspenseful, heady romance that turns bloodier by the page. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor