I first encountered Tosca Lee’s work in her debut novel, Demon: A Memoir. A moody, tense, gripping story about a down-on-his-luck literary agent and his encounter with a demon who demands he tell Its story told to the world, Memoir predicted big things for Tosca, big things which have come to pass.
After writing three critically acclaimed Biblical/historical novels and after her co-written fantasy series with New York Times Bestselling Author Ted Dekker, Lee is back on her own with a fast-paced thriller speculating on the legend of “Blood Countess” Elizabeth Bathory, the most prolific female serial killer in history. Lee takes you on a twist-filled ride driven by a first-person, present-tense narrative which propels the story relentlessly forward.
What makes this novel so gripping is the “you can’t trust anyone” vibe Lee sets up early in the novel. Emily Porter’s memory has been erased. And according to the letter she apparently wrote herself beforehand, she chose to have it wiped. Why? As she soon discovers, her name’s really Audra Ellison, and she’s a descendant of Elizabeth Bathory. Because of this —and because of “special talents” which come with her bloodline—she’s hunted by those who would erase her family line forever, and she doesn’t know whom to trust; even those who claim to be like her, or the man who claims to love her.
Apparently Emily/Audra learned something so important she couldn’t risk it being harvested from her memory by Scions—those who hunt her kind. They are driven by a leader known only as the Historian as they mercilessly track down and exterminate every “gifted” descendant of the Blood Countess—descendants known as Progeny. The secret she learned and then hid even from herself threatens to upset balances of power on both sides and throw this secret world into chaos.
Not only has Lee crafted a fast-paced thriller in which no one can be trusted, she’s set up an intriguing and complex mythology. There are the Scions; Franciscan monks who have labored to protect the Progeny throughout the ages (believing the charges leveled against Bathory to be false and politically motivated); and double-agents, working both sides against the middle, abound. The Progeny hide throughout Europe, existing in an all-night underground rave culture which knows no end. They trust only each other. However, as Emily/Audra soon learns, not even her own kind can be trusted as she nears closer to the truth.
The first-person present tense is effective in driving the plot forward, but it’s not merely an affectation, I don’t believe. Because of their psychic talents, Progeny are restless, driven, almost manic, with a constant need to expend energy. This tense point of view conveys this restlessness well, as we’re inside Emily/Audra’s head, and she’s constantly rushing forward, driven by forces perhaps beyond her control. A highly recommended read for those who like fast-paced thrillers with complex twists and turns.