Book Review: House of Bathory by Linda Lafferty

18184303Title: House of Bathory

Author: Linda Lafferty

Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Thrillers, Historical Fiction

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 3 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher through Netgalley.

In the early 1600s, Elizabeth Báthory, the infamous Blood Countess, ruled Čachtice Castle in the hinterlands of Slovakia. During bizarre nightly rites, she tortured and killed the young women she had taken on as servants. A devil, a demon, the terror of Royal Hungary—she bathed in their blood to preserve her own youth.
400 years later, echoes of the Countess’s legendary brutality reach Aspen, Colorado. Betsy Path, a psychoanalyst of uncommon intuition, has a breakthrough with sullen teenager Daisy Hart. Together, they are haunted by the past, as they struggle to understand its imprint upon the present. Betsy and her troubled but perceptive patient learn the truth: the curse of the House of Bathory lives still and has the power to do evil even now.

The story, brimming with palace intrigue, memorable characters intimately realized, and a wealth of evocative detail, travels back and forth between the familiar, modern world and a seventeenth-century Eastern Europe brought startlingly to life.

Inspired by the actual crimes of Elizabeth Báthory, The House of Bathory is another thrilling historical fiction from Linda Lafferty (The Bloodletter’s Daughter and The Drowning Guard). The novel carries readers along with suspense and the sweep of historical events both repellent and fascinating.

House of Bathory was a mixed read for me. There were parts of the book that I absolutely loved, and other parts that I disliked. To recap the plot, part of the novel happens in 1610, the age when Elizabeth Bathory lived, who also happens to be one of the main cast of characters for this book. I’m sure the Countess needs no introduction (and if she does, you should really google her, if you’re a history fan, or love scary stories, or bloody legends). Anyway, the other part happens in 2010, and talks about Betsy, a psychiatrist, and her patient, Daisy.

Betsy inherited her love for psychology from her Dad, who was quite famous in the field. He passed away several years ago, and she’s still very shaken up about it, since he was her best friend and always looked out for her. From Eastern European descent, Betsy’s parents have always had a strange bond with that part of Europe. Her Mom even teaches history classes on the subject, and, at the start of the book, is working on a new book about Countess Bathory, when she goes missing.

Betsy’s patient, Daisy, is a Goth girl who has several issues she can barely talks about, and who connects instantly with Jung and his philosophy, the moment Betsy shows her one of his books. Daisy believes in shared dreaming and intuition, and when she gets the feeling something bad will happen to Betsy while she tries to find her mother in Eastern Europe, she instantly books a ticket as well.

Now, let’s start with the good. There’s plenty of history, geography and pscyhology thrown in, which I always enjoy. The writing is okay, even though it drags here and there. The book could’ve done with about fifty pages cut – it’s pretty big, at 537 pages, andI don’t think it needs all of those. Often there’s wordiness, or passages are dragged on, while other times it seems to rush without reason.

Betsy makes a likeable character. She’s a scholar, she’s still obsessed over her father’s passing, apart from her patients, she has little else going on in her life. While likeable, this did make her quite boring. She ended her marriage to a guy named John several years ago, but calls upon him now, when her Mom goes missing. There’s zero passion between both characters. There may be love, but otherwise, they kind of act like family more than two potential partners. Betsy isn’t adventurous at all, she has no hobbies we’re aware of, no strange quirks, nada. Apart from being a psychologist, there’s little else to her.

Daisy is more interesting. She’s Goth, looking for a deeper meaning in life, and severely traumatized after something that happened in her past. She instantly feels a connection to Betsy, and isn’t afraid to act on instinct, so she’s got that going for her. However, her sister Morgan, was more intriguing, and she got a lot less space time. Morgan was mysterious – an enigma, which I sensed the moment she walked into Betsy’s office. If the book had evolved around her more, I probably would’ve liked it better.

The secondary cast is basically just meh. They have no personality – they’re there to fill pages and add extra storylines. Like, Daisy meets some kid while hanging out in the snow, and he only makes one other appearance in the book, while at first it looks like he may be important for the plot. John tagging along with Betsy seems important too, at first, but then proves to be almost useless (until maybe at the end, but then again, not sure there). Her mother, Grace, has no distinctive personality traits, and rates only slightly more interesting than her daughter, simply because she had a prophetic dream once, and is obsessed with Eastern Europe and history.

The plot was decent, and if some questions hadn’t left unanswered, it could’ve even been great. But there were so many unanswered questions, or stupid responses to some of them, at the end of the book that I almost wanted to stop reading. I don’t want to spoil this for anyone,  so don’t read past her if you don’t want any spoilers. The spoiler is in brackets.

(By the end, I’d expected there’d be some weird connection between Daisy and Betsy. Like, maybe Daisy was the reincarnation of Elizabeth Bathory, or maybe her sister was, and that’s how they were connected, since Betsy was a descendant from the Bathory’s. Unfortunately, nothing like that happened, and there’s still no explanation why Daisy dreamed about Bathory’s castle, the walls bathing in blood, or why she connected to Betsy like that. On top of that, Daisy’s sister looks almost exactly like Elizabeth Bathory, so it would make sense if she was her reincarnation, then. But no. Again, no real link – then how or why are they involved?)

People also seem to turn up at the most random places for the most random reasons. The villain’s plan is predictable, and it would’ve been a lot more intriguing if some supernatural elements were actually involved. From the synopsis, I kind of gathered there would be, but reading it again, I’m not sure why I thought that. Either way, if you’re looking for something supernatural, you won’t find it here.

Some other things annoyed me. Why talk about Elizabeth Bathory if you’re not going to let the Countess herself do the talking? We meet Zuzuna, a servant girl, and Janos, the horse master, but neither of them is awfully interesting. I would’ve much preferred to see the countess’ view point. At least every now and then, especially if we’re going to headhop from one character to another anyway.

Then comes how literally they’ve held on to the Bathory legend here. I don’t mind this interpretation at all, but I doubt Elizabeth Bathory was truly the bloodthirsty countess the world has deemed her to be. There are interesting discussions on the top all over the academic world (and all over the internet, too) and I’ve always firlmy believed that, while the legend may be the most interesting brought to literature or movies, the more down-to-earth logic of a possible conspiracy against her, since she was the wealthiest woman of Europea, and the king of Hungary had a giant debt to be paid to her, had a lot more chances of being true.


Speak Your Mind