[ARC Review] Blood Countess by Anna Popović

Lana Popović
rating: ☾ ☾ ☾ ☾ {4/5}
publication date: january, 28th 2020
tw: excessive violence, torture sequences, abuse & death (honestly if serial killers aren’t your thing steer clear of this book)
rep: lesbian mc, bisexual love interest
age: teens (13+)
Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with an arc to review

summary: 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.

“And who else could know your desire better then I could? I, who knew what was between us from the moment we first met each other’s eyes?”

Initial Thoughts

Reading this story was like knowing full well a disaster was coming but you just keep watching in case something drastically changes. It was gothic and terrifying; a perfect way to start my 2020 reading.

Writing Style sets the scene (1/1)

One of the strongest points of the book was the writing style, it’s full of these vivid descriptions that set the Gothic tone of the book. There’s lots of foreshadowing using predatory creatures like hawks, spiders and wolves at these very specific scenes to enhance the feelings of helplessness. When Anna resolves to ignore Elizabeth’s cruelty and decides to tries and “save” her, there is a scene that happens a few pages later where she walks into a giant spider web and immediately feels disgusted and trapped. Is the foreshadowing a little obvious? Probably. Nonetheless, this is a young adult novel so I think a little more obvious is good because for some teen readers this might be their first real experience with foreshadowing in a novel.

A perfect trap (1/1)

The book only takes place in a few locations but the author uses that to her advantage. In the beginning, Anna can go wherever she pleases in her village and has a lot of freedom to express herself. As the story continues, there are fewer and fewer locations for her to explore and suddenly all that’s left is this terrifying castle that Anna is trapped in. By limiting a majority of the events to the castle, Popović increases the feeling of isolation and helplessness that Anna and the reader begin to feel throughout the story. I feel like I should stress that this story is a dark story, it’s about a victim slowly realizing they are being trapped by a monster.

Plot (.5/1)

In terms of plot, this story is fairly predictable if you have previous knowledge about Elizabeth Bathory. The story itself doesn’t take any huge risks and instead follows a linear plot line, it relies on suspense to keep your interest rather then any big events. I wished they would have pursued the dark, blood magic a little more in detail because that’s the part of the story I was actually interested in.

Character Development (.5/1)

Anna’s development felt slow because she’s constantly making excuses for abusive behavior and trying to reason out why she should stay. However, it’s hard to fault her behavior because Anna has no power or control over the situation, even if it feels like she should. The first half of the story was painful because she was so enamored with Elizabeth she kept making excuses for behavior, which was painful to read through. Once Anna has snapped out of her savior mentality, the last half of the story becomes a fight for survival, which means standing by helpless as Elizabeth starts murdering poor peasant girls. Anna doesn’t find her motivation to act until her family is actively threatened, then she decides enough is enough and puts her own plan into action.

Elizabeth is always coldblooded in the story, but her development from torturing servants to straight up murdering people is incredibly terrifying. To her the ends justify the means and she will get her beauty at whatever cost. Honestly, I enjoyed Elizabeth’s development far more then Anna’s because Elizabeth actively works towards her goal of becoming a terrifying villain. She uses the adoration of the people around her and manipulates them into helping her do whatever she wants. She has the power and the privilege to hurt people and get away with it.

Themes (1/1)

The Role of Power

Part of what works well for this story is that the main character is literally powerless. Anna is just a peasant girl trying to provide for her poor family living in the village. She sees the horrible things happening and reasons that she can use her power as Elizabeth’s favorite to try and stop the bad behavior. When that fails Anna realizes she has such limited power that she has to be careful in her interactions with Elizabeth if she is to protect her family. While some horror relies on jump scares or gory scenes to scare you, there’s something to be said for a horror story where the monster is always present, leaving the reader in suspense about when they will strike.

There’s also an interesting discussion of women’s power in general throughout the book. In the story, Elizabeth and Anna present two different sides of the same coin when it comes to women’s power. Anna is a clever and talented healer, earning the respect of the people around her because she is kind and helpful. Elizabeth is also clever but in a different respect, she tells Anna the way to control people is through great beauty and brutality. It’s evident throughout the book that Elizabeth uses her power to keep Anna entranced by her and eventually trapped. While I don’t necessarily like pitting two women against each other in a contest of brains versus beauty, I do think it works for the story because there are virtually no men involved to make this comparison toxic. Instead it’s Elizabeth using her beauty and power to terrorize people and Anna using her brains to try and outmaneuver her. Ultimately, it makes their dynamic interesting and keeps you hooked on the story, since you want to know what will happen next.

Overall (4/5)

While it has a basic plotline, Blood Countess makes up for it in haunting settings and an interesting commentary on power. I spent the last day of my winter break thoroughly engrossed in the story because I wanted to know what would happen next.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, gothic settings, and/or un-apologetically evil women (I cannot stress enough how much you have to be okay with that last one).

2 thoughts on “[ARC Review] Blood Countess by Anna Popović

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