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Baroness of Blood by Elaine Bergstrom- This is the tenth book released in the Ravenloft line of novels that is based of the Ravenloft setting of the pen and paper role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. This is also a stand-alone novel and can be read without any prior knowledge of the setting or events. Elaine Bergstrom has written one other Ravenloft novel which is titled Tapestry of Dark Souls. She wrote the Austra Family series (Shattered Glass, Blood Alone, Blood Rites, Daughter of the Night, and Nocturne), two books that continue the Dracula story titled Mina and Blood to Blood, and wrote a novel titled The Door Through Washington Square. She wrote two novels under the name Marie Kiraly titled Leanna: Possession of a Woman and Madeline: After the Fall of User. She also contributed a few short stories to various anthologies. Baroness of Blood was originally released in March 1995 and published by TSR, Inc. However, this book is hard to find and you'll likely need to pick it up used.
Baroness Ilsabet Obour thirsts for revenge. Her country, Kislova, has been dealing with a rebellion and her father, Janosk, is seen as a tyrant and oppressor. After dealing with the rebellion, Janosk decides to try to invade neighboring Sundell, but Baron Peto Casse hears about the invasion and surprises the Kislova forces. Following the force back to Kislova's Nimbus Castle, Peto meets Janosk and executes him after seeing that Janosk has a mortal wound to his side. However, young Ilsabet sees this act and swears revenge on Peto and those who swore allegiance to him. She needs a way to take vengeance, without linking her to it. It just so happens that Ilsabet was learning how to use poisons. She experiments with more subtle ways of administering it, to have it not be traced back to her. As time passes she becomes more obsessed with revenge, but how far will she go?
1) Storytelling. Baroness of Blood did have an annoying tendency to switch writing styles towards the middle and end of the novel. For a good portion of the novel, the story is told with a third person perspective and switches character viewpoints during breaks in a chapter. So it's pretty much reads like a 'normal' third person novel would. However, during the middle we have a sudden shift to reading Ilsabet diary at random times in various chapters. In other words, we have a chapter starting with a third person perspective for a scene or two, then suddenly it becomes something from Ilsabet's diary, and then returns back to a third person viewpoint. It's was off-putting and sudden. I would have understood if the entry was just inside of a scene (that does happen once) without stopping the scene, like an excerpt. However, this diary switching gets more prominent towards the end of the novel. In fact, it felt as through the novel should have been written from the perspective of just Ilsabet. The switch of storytelling did become annoying and at times took away from the enjoyment.
1) Descent. Throughout the story we see Ilsabet's slow descent into evil, and it was great. When we first meet the young baroness, she seemed to be little more than a frail girl. But as the story progresses, we see her cruel and disturbing streak she has. Seeing this girl do increasingly horrific things is disturbing and frightening at times. Her blind quest for revenge really does blind her from what's right and what's wrong. The descent into evil is also intensified due to the supporting characters. The characters around her are all likeable and sympathetic, making her descent all the more noticeable. It seemed like no one compared to her, no one really matched her actions. However, her actions never really seemed to be tragic. Ilsabet's story only felt tragic at the beginning, but I could never really identify with her. It was shocking about how much you came to loathe her as a character.
2) Ending. The ending of Baroness of Blood was simply fantastic. We see everything that the story was building up to coming to a head, and the pay off was just great. Seeing Ilsabet's mental state slowly crumble and all her actions in the last few chapters seemed desperate. Plus seeing what the outcome of everything was really satisfying. However, I really can't spoil to much of what happens, but needless to say it was great.
3) Atmosphere. The atmosphere didn't really feel like a horror story until near the middle of the story. Instead, until that point, the atmosphere was of a war-torn land with hope of the future. This does help the atmosphere of the last half of the novel, making it a stark and obvious contrast. The second half of the novel the atmosphere seems more like a 'regular' Ravenloft novel. The feeling of doom and fear is almost palpable. In fact, there were times when it seemed like the atmosphere around Ilsabet seemed to want her to stop what she's doing. It really did feel like the atmosphere was another character in the novel.
1) Title. Baroness of Blood should not have been the title of the novel. When I see a title like that I almost suspect it being more gory. However, there is little actual blood shed, or at least not enough to warrant such a title. Sure, there's a high body count, but it's not 'bloody'. Instead, a more appropriate title could have been Baroness of Poison or something along those lines.
2) First Third. The first third of the novel doesn't really feel like a Ravenloft novel. Instead it feels like something that belongs in Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance, albeit darker.
3) Cover Art. The cover art work for Baroness of Blood is generic. It seems that all the Ravenloft novels have a character staring out at you with a plain background, and this novel is no different. Ilsabet looks okay. Her eyes are kind of creepy, but other than that she's just okay. Nothing really stands out for her. It doesn't help that the colors are so bland and plain. Nothing really stands out and would be very easily overlooked.
Baroness of Blood is a really look into someone's fall into evil and what revenge can do to a person. There isn't much wrong with the novel. I did find that the change in writing styles between the 'regular' style to a diary style was a little awkward and annoying at times. However, everything else was wonderful. Seeing Ilsabet's fall was exciting and different. When the story first started, she never really felt all that menacing or evil, but you see how twisted she becomes, and it was great. The ending was superb, it was fitting and left me very satisfied. Finally, the atmosphere was just great. At times the atmosphere felt like another character in the story. All in all, Baroness of Blood is certainly worth the read and I highly recommend tracking down a copy, if only to see how revenge can corrupt a person.