Erzsébet Báthory is sent to marry Hungarian nobleman Ferenc Nádasdy in the 16th century. She suffers her husband’s indifference toward their arranged marriage, but pours her passion into running his estates. When he discovers her brutal punishment of a difficult servant, he admires her technique and their love affair begins. Ferenc is absent for long periods, fighting in the wars to save Hungary from the Turks. Erzsébet takes in destitute girls and poor relations on the pretext of helping them find husbands. In her severe punishment of these girls for stealing or consorting with soldiers, many die. The local minister refuses to bury them, so Erzsébet has her trusted servants dig shallow graves in the woods. So many complaints arise over these missing girls that the local authorities investigate. Now a widow, with a son too young to protect her, Erzsébet is vulnerable to the men who scheme to ruin her and claim her vast estates.
In this novel based on true events, Countess Nádasdy is known in more modern history as Lady Dracula or the Blood Countess, a woman who bathed in virgins’ blood to preserve her youth. The story is told from Erzsébet’s point of view, and she insists that what she does is her right to maintain discipline. The author portrays the countess as a complicated woman you almost pity. Were the charges against her trumped up for greed and political reasons? I kept turning the pages to find out.
I hope the published novel has a map of Hungary during this time period, because that would have helped me in following events.