In 16th-century Hungary, 16-year-old Anna Darvulia, a talented healer, becomes a chambermaid to the notorious Countess Elizabeth of Bathory.
After her father dies, providing for her family now falls to Anna; marriage is not an option and holds no appeal. Scullery work is backbreaking, but Anna seizes on the opportunity to prove her worth when the Countess falls ill. The vibrant, 19-year-old Elizabeth awakens something in Anna, and she eventually becomes Elizabeth’s lover and pampered companion. But Elizabeth, who is obsessed with youth, beauty, and the healthy bloom that blood brings to the cheeks, has a dark side. Anna has difficulty reconciling the Countess’ vicious treatment of her staff with the kind, generous Elizabeth she knows so intimately. However, as Elizabeth spirals into full-blown madness, Anna comes to her senses and plans her escape—but can Anna also escape her own complicity? Popovic (Fierce Like a Firestorm, 2018, etc.) masterfully conveys the genuine, visceral horror of Elizabeth’s actions (and startling body count) without being gratuitous, though to remain true to the Bathory legend, there must be blood. It’s difficult to humanize a legendary monster like Bathory, but Popovic gives it an admirable shot. She also touches on how a patriarchal society can drive women to extremes without letting the truly terrifying Bathory, or Anna, off the hook for their own actions. All characters seem to be white.
A lush and bloody historical thriller. (Thriller. 14-adult)