The Countess by Rebecca Johns

In 1611, Countess Erzsébet Báthory, stands helpless as masons walled her inside her castle tower. She is to spend her final years in solitary confinement for her crime – the gruesome murders of dozens of female servants. She claims she was only disciplining them but her opponents paint her as a bloodthirsty witch.

Her only recourse is to tell her story in her own words; a feat she does by writing to her young son. She recounts her childhood and her love for her parents, her arranged marriage and a husband she would eventually come to care deeply for. She describes how she embraces her new role of wife and mother and how she does all she can to secure a future for her precious children.

Yet as she strives for these things, a darker side of the Countess surfaces. The Countess is a strict mistress; demanding respect, virtue, and above all, obedience. It is when she does not receive what she feels is her due that events take a more sinister turn.

Erzsébet Báthory is one of those individuals where the truth is just as disturbing as the fiction. Described as a bloodthirsty sadist, it was believed she killed countless young women and bathed in their blood. The truth, while no less disturbing, is only slightly less gruesome. And it is a truth that Johns expounds on in The Countess.

The Countess is the fictionalized biography of the very real Countess Erzsébet Báthory. Her story is told through her own hand as she writes to her son from her prison cell. She tells him of her life before his birth and after, all the while in the hope that he understands that she did only what she believed was right. For her and for her children.

The Countess is a heavy read at times. Women, even noble born, were treated as little more than commodities. Marriages were made to strengthen political ties; to join families and fortunes. In this day and age of feminism, it can be difficult to read about a time when this wasn’t true.

Jones does an admirable job of bringing the world of 16th century Hungary to life. It is a cruel world and Jones doesn’t pretty things up at all. She gives us a glimpse in to the life of one of the most infamous women to date and gives us a bit of insight in to her character. Bathory isn’t painted as a sympathetic character but as a women doing what she believed to be correct in a time where there were few choices.

A heavy read and a bit gruesome at times, overall I enjoyed The Countess. I recommend this one to my readers.

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