The Countess

"The story is a unique perspective on Bathory's life. Johns shows her in a sympathetic light. (Bathory usually punishes girls for rumors or admissions of sleeping with her husband.) THE COUNTESS walks a fine line between being a repulsive story of murder and gore and a tale of a woman defending her home and honor. Johns expertly manages that balancing act."—Summer Moore, The Associated Press

"Johns’ fictional countess is a complex, almost-but-not-quite sympathetic figure; a woman of admirable qualities who nonetheless committed acts of appalling violence."—Chicago Sun-Times

"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."—Historical Novels Review

"Though Johns’s novel is a work of historical fiction, the details which emerge about Báthory paint a chilling portrait of a woman who, whether or not she committed the heinous acts she’s credited for, emerged from a privileged if disturbed childhood and an arranged marriage with a cunning and cruelty that fit her reputation as a monster. It is easy to see how willing people were and have been to believe the worst of The Blood Countess."San Francisco Book Review

"'The Countess' is an absolutely wonderful novel. Johns provides readers a complex and well-rounded portrayal of Erzsebet. Readers will find themselves sympathizing with Erzsebet as she is constantly humiliated by the people in her life, feeling her frustrations with the haughty and lazy servant girls, and cringing as she unleashes brutal punishment on them. Erzsebet's love for her family and her children shine through as does her intelligence, beauty, and strength. Johns gives readers a fairer portrayal which is more than just a woman who murdered servants and had no care in the world when she did it. Powerfully written and completely engrossing, 'The Countess' is one of those novels you will not want to put down. Johns has completely succeeded in providing a different and fascinating portrayal of Erzsebet Bathory."Kayla Posney, Pittsburgh Examiner

"Johns’ ability to mesmerize with words, to portray such vivid and heinous crimes with an unbiased compassion and passion is what lends perfection to this story. We see a woman rather than a monster, first, which allows the readers access in to what has become, undoubtably, one of the most bloody moments in history. Only towards the end, when Erzsebet’s fervent denial of any wrongdoing, are we openly invited to review what we know, and realize we’ve been hypnotized by Johns into (almost) accepting her behavior as warranted discipline. Therein lays the greatest horror of all. Human nature is fragile, and to be so close to such atrocities, apathetically, even, at times, is absolutely terrifying. A MUST read for anyone interested in the Bathory story. From the very first page to the last, The Countess captivates, dominates and subjugates it’s readers with a twisted tale of love, murder, history and familial legacies not easily put from the mind after reading. Brilliantly horrible. Rating: 5/5"

"The most lasting effect of Johns' THE COUNTESS is the uneasy feeling readers get that there may be a monster within each of us, concealed under veils of ethics and self-justification, and too easily overlooked."—Fiction Writers Review

"One of the themes of the story is the psychology behind a personality that can make one act rather extreme under emotional distress. This was the most interesting facet to the story, though there is plenty of political intrigue and a history of the state of Hungary during the volatile late 16th century and early 17th century—an entirely new subject for me....A well-written and meticulously researched novel, and I highly recommend it for historical fiction lovers, but perhaps not those looking for a gore-fest. This version of the Blood Countess does the noblewoman credit, even if she deserved her to live in solitary confinement the final years of her life."—

"If you suffer from claustrophobia, avoid it.  But if you are fascinated by the sinister atmosphere of gothic stories, LA CONTESSA NERA by Rebecca Johns will fascinate you. Do not think, however, that this is the umpteenth variation on the theme of vampires or its revival in sweetened form, Twilight. With her novel LA CONTESSA NERA, the author marks a return to the pure tradition of the gothic novel, while attempting to shed light on human story of a mysterious and controversial historical figure as Erzsébet Báthory, the first figure of the female serial killer in history, often associated in legend and in fiction (think of "Dracula the Un-dead," the official sequel to Bram Stoker's "Dracula") to Count Dracula. History tells us that the Countess Báthory was a torturer of young women, a ruthless killer who used black magic and was devoted to sadistic practices. It tells of abuse against women and the servants' children of the local gentry, ablutions done with the blood of young virgins, orgies and black magic. The novel, however, goes beyond the bleak portrait of the life of Erzsébet Báthory, to investigate the dark side and dig into the folds of her black soul. The bloody countess, in fact, is also a woman marked by the atrocious violence to which she attended as a child in Transylvania. A woman, perhaps, alone in a world of men, forced to manage political alliances and bloody power struggles in the absence of her husband, the violent Ferenc Nádasdy. Rebecca Johns's gaze lingers on the gray areas of this accursed character, investigating the fascination that evil exercises on her, until gradually it blurs the line between victim and victimizer.  Even when fate will decree that she be buried alive in the castle tower of Csejthe, lit only by a slit in the wall, Erzsébet Báthory chooses not to surrender to the conviction of a court of men." Eclipse Magazine (Italy)

"Johns’ book is exquisitely cultured, charming and terrifying, taking the reader in suspense from cover to cover....I cannot recommend strongly enough the reading of this truly unique work."—Stefano Donno, Il Recensore (Italy)

"The author is so good at manipulating our emotions that we almost feel sorry for the woman later called the Blood Countess and begin to agree that maybe her acts were not so monstrous after all.  Johns combines scintillating historical facts and gruesome details into a tale that is impossible to put down.  Somewhere between Chelsea Cain and C.J. Sansom, The Countess is a must for fans of the serial killer genre who are tired of the same old stuff.  Or, for that matter, history buffs who don’t shy from the gory bits."Ian Kern, The Mysterious Bookshop

"How many conflicting personalities can really coexist in one person? Who really is Elizabeth Bathory? Is it possible she is only the victim of a terrible conspiracy? These and many other questions are answered by the writer Rebecca Johns in her historical novel LA CONTESSA NERA: a masterful book, written with a very evocative style.  In the book the author chooses to show us Elizabeth Bathory as a woman, first of all, with many weaknesses and strengths. A restless woman, fragile and rebellious, who lived in a world dominated by men, and who has chosen to rely on evil to survive."LibriBlog (Italy)

"Rebecca Johns takes us on [Bathory's] journey to the edge, giving us a complex figure, extraordinarily combative, ready to do anything not to succumb. A fascinating tale that enchants and terrifies." (Italy)

 "Told in the first person, The Countess by Rebecca Johns tries to paint the story of Bathory in a sympathetic way, in revealing the madness of a woman who truly believes that she has been framed for the murders. Telling the story from Bathory's point of view allows us to get a fictionalized view of the woman's upbringing and marriagefrom an abusive, mad mother to an abusive husband. Johns tells the story of a woman who may have been driven mad by outside sources and folk lore of the time."Jesse Coffey, Lexington Examiner

"In 1611, Countess Erzsébet Báthory (1560–1614), a Hungarian noblewoman, was walled up inside her castle tower for the murders of dozens of her female servants. In the almost four centuries since her death, folktales and myths sprang up around the Blood Countess and inspired films like the 2006 horror movie Stay Alive. This new retelling of the life of the supposed bather in blood and biter of virgins is a more realistic and historically accurate treatment than previous novels like Andrei Codrescu’s The Blood Countess. Author Johns’s solid first novel, Icebergs, thematically demonstrated the depths of human psyches and how little we reveal to one another. In this new book, it’s not surprising that in the Countess, while given her own words written as letters to her son, we see glimpses of the woman but are left to ponder the complexities and make up our own mind about her guilt. The times were brutal, the authority of the nobility was unchallenged, widowhood left even the most wealthy women unprotected from swindlers, and the underclasses were getting just a bit tired of it all, to name just a few of the factors that might have led to the Countess’s downfall.  Verdict: Readers who liked Susan King’s Lady Macbeth will enjoy this title as well. Its understated treatment of an infamous character offers excellent potential for book club discussion."—Library Journal

 "Johns's creepily enticing second novel (after Icebergs) travels to 1611 Hungary as Countess Erzsébet Báthory—aka the Blood Countess—is being walled into a castle tower as punishment for the murder of dozens of women and girls. She begins writing her life story as an exposé of the many betrayals that have brought about this—as she sees it—outrageous and unjust imprisonment. The steady, calm tone of Erzsébet's narration lulls the reader along so that the first hints of madness in her girlhood engender doubt and discomfort rather than horror, and as her lack of remorse and grandiose sense of entitlement are unveiled, a matter-of-fact self-portrait of a murderer emerges. This is a carefully researched story, gothic in tone and grimly atmospheric, with subtly handled psychology and an initially unassuming tone. Unlike most serial killer stories, this rewards patience and close reading."
—Publishers Weekly