Reviewed by Claudia Robinson

“And the others, the ones who died at my hands, whose faces I see now always coming in through the cracks of my walls, the stone gap at my door. 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?”

Countess Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Bathory’s tale of blood, murder and sadistic behavior is world renowned. Countless books, movies and documents have provided, for the most part, an accurate portrayal of the cruel behaviors she is perpetrated to have meted out on those in her care and in her service. Young, beautiful and most likely insane, due to inbreeding, the Countess’ severe and barbaric reign over her household, is rumored to have included bathing in the blood of young female victims in order to preserve her own, carefully attended to beauty, biting off pieces of flesh, cruel methods of incarceration, beating her maidservants with a barbed lash and a heavy cudgel, and having them dragged naked into the snow and doused with cold water until they froze to death.

It was in her husband’s absence that Elizabeth is reputed to have begun torturing young servant girls for her own pleasure, although this may in fact have been a pastime to which Ferenc himself introduced her to.

After her husband’s untimely death, Elizabeth moved in to the Royal Court in Vienna, where she met Anna Darvula, described as both her lover and the most sadistic of her entourage. Her vicious behaviors and appetite for torture continued, with a death toll numbering in the hundreds. in 1609 the King of Hungary ordered her arrest, her demise brought upon by a peasant lover’s deception, at which time she was walled up within her bed chamber, with only a slit for light and food, where she remained until her death in 1614.

[amazonify]9780307588456[/amazonify]The Countess is a blend of fact and fiction, written in the form of a journal from her cell as a tomb to her children and a firm decry of her innocence. It offers a different perspective of this infamous woman’s life to it’s readers. A gorgeously gothic thriller, Johns seduces her readers in to false sense of pity and understanding in regards to the Countess and her actions. Psychologically delicious, deviously commiserating, it isn’t until later, when the readers are submerged deeply to the callous, cruel, unforgiving and unrelenting nature of the Countess, that her behavior becomes disturbing, and then horrifying, at which point, most will already feel like accomplices, their hands well tainted with innocent blood.

Johns’ ability to mesmerize with words, to portray such vivid and heinous crimes with an unbiased compassion and passion is what lends perfection to this story. We see a woman rather than a monster, first, which allows the readers access in to what has become, undoubtably, one of the most bloody moments in history. Only towards the end, when Erzsebet’s fervent denial of any wrongdoing, are we openly invited to review what we know, and realize we’ve been hypnotized by Johns in to (almost) accepting her behavior as warranted discipline. Therein lays the greatest horror of all. Human nature is fragile, and to be so close to such atrocities, apathetically, even, at times, is absolutely terrifying.

A MUST read for anyone interested in the Bathory story. From the very first page to the last, The Countess captivates, dominates and subjugates it’s readers with a twisted tale of love, murder, history and familial legacies not easily put from the mind after reading. Brilliantly horrible.

Rating: 5/5

Claudia lives on beautiful Cape Cod with her husband and two children.

The review copy of this book was provided free of any obligation by Crown. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.