Throughout June, GeekMom will be celebrating Pride Month with lots of LGBTQ content. Follow the Pride Month tag to find all the content in one space and keep checking back for more throughout the month. Today’s book review is Blood Countess by Lana Popovic.
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Blood Countess by Lana Popovic is a YA novel that combines historical fiction with horror and adds in a sprinkling of LGBTQ romance for good measure. Based on the story of the infamous Countess Elizabeth Bathory – rumored to have been one of the world’s first documented serial killers, this novel reimagines her story as the first book in the new Lady Slayers series. Trigger warnings apply for domestic violence and hinted sexual assault, as well as scenes of torture and poisoning.
Blood Countess follows the story of Anna Darvulia, a 16-year-old midwife’s daughter who has grown up poor with a drunken father and too many mouths to feed in her small home in rural Hungary. Anna catches the eye of Countess Bathory during the latter’s wedding day parade and not long after, she is summoned to become Elizabeth’s new chambermaid. Elizabeth appears besotted with Anna and the pair embark upon a sexual relationship, but soon Anna begins to realize that perhaps the rumors of Elizabeth’s cruelty to the servants have some basis in reality. Too late, she begins to see Elizabeth’s true nature and realizes that she may have been set up from the beginning.
I picked up Blood Countess as I’m trying to read more horror this year and the premise of a YA horror novel that was also a work of historical fiction intrigued me. The book was definitely more gothic horror than what we would class as true horror today – although there were several scenes that were shockingly bloodthirsty. The LGBTQ element of this novel took me by surprise but was very welcome. It’s great to find a book containing LGBTQ characters where the focus of the story isn’t their sexuality but this is revealed only as an incidental element of the plot. While not a huge part of the story, the sexuality of the main characters is not left ambiguous and I was happy that the heterosexual romance hinted at toward the beginning is neatly sidestepped instead of the book falling into traditional YA stereotypes by the end.
Although I have been aware of Countess Elizabeth Bathory for many years, this was my first time reading a novel focused on her. I liked her characterization in this version of her story because it leaves you initially wondering if she really is as evil as she has been made out to be or if her behavior is simply a result of her circumstances. Of course, any such notions are quickly disavowed! Anna reminded me in many ways of Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games. She has grown up using her skills to help keep her family fed and enters into a difficult and dangerous situation in order to provide them with extra money – staying there even after learning that her life is in danger.
I have to admit I found the conclusion of Blood Countess rather lackluster for all its slow-burning build-up but this will be a great read for anyone looking to find LGBTQ characters in other genres and for fans of gothic horror.
GeekMom received a copy of this book for review purposes.