Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Book Review: 'Firstborn' by Tosca Lee

From Internet sources we discover impressive biographical information about brilliant novelist Tosca Lee, a bestselling American author of historical novels and supernatural thrillers. She is best known for her exploration of maligned characters, prodigious research and vivid imagery. Lee was born in Roanoke, Virginia, United States to a Korean father and Caucasian American mother. Her father, Professor Emeritus Sang Moon Lee, who had early aspirations of an opera career, named Tosca for his favorite Puccini opera. As a young classically trained ballerina and pianist Lee pursued an early career in dance until injuries derailed hopes of a successful career. Lee received her BA in English from Smith College and studied international economics at Oxford University. As a young classically trained ballerina and pianist Lee pursued an early career in dance until injuries derailed hopes of a successful career.

Lee continues her study of historically significant, maligned, and tortured characters in her thriller, FIRSTBORN, a supernatural suspense thriller centered around the fictional descendants of the "Blood Countess" Elizabeth Báthory. In this volume Lee offers more information about the legend: ‘Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed (1560–1614) is the most notorious female serial killer of all time. The exact number of her victims is unknown, though one witness testified at trial to a total of 650, as detailed in the countess’s private diary. Her accomplices were burned at the stake, but Báthory herself was spared execution. Instead, she was walled up in a set of rooms in Cachtice Castle (in present-day Slovakia), where she remained for four years until her death in 1614. Known to be exceptionally educated, wealthier than the crown, and a doting mother to her children, the private life and sins of Elizabeth Báthory remain a mystery. History calls her a monster. Others, a victim of conspiracy and greed. Legend knows her as the Blood Countess.’

Lee’s magical way with ideas and words is evident in the intense opening to this mesmerizing novel: ‘Six weeks ago, I woke up in a cabin in the north woods of Maine with no memory of the last two years or any pertinent details of my life before. My real identity, for one, along with the names and faces of anyone I ever loved—all erased by an elective procedure I chose to undergo in a bid to protect a powerful secret. Because when you’re me, knowledge is dangerous. And my memory is deadly. It took them one month to find me. My name is Audra Ellison and I am twenty-one years old. I’ve spent the last two weeks on the run, chased across Eastern Europe, hiding in her underground. Piecing together the past I erased. Not knowing whom to trust. I am a direct descendant of the “Blood Countess” Elizabeth Bathory, the most prolific female serial killer of all time, and I am being hunted by an ancient organization called the Scions of the Dispossessed, who have sworn to destroy her progeny. For four hundred years they have systematically murdered our kind in revenge for Bathory’s purported atrocities against their peasant ancestors. They are peasants no more; today their secret society backs some of the most powerful offices in Europe, with influence throughout the world. But the Progeny—also called the Utod—are not without resources. We are gifted with a legacy passed through the female line. We can persuade others without words. We can appear to possess the characteristics that anyone looking at us wants to see. We have unnaturally strong charisma. We stand out in a crowd. Which is great if you want to be a rock star . . . But terrible when you’re trying to hide.’

Lee’s synopsis prepares the reader well: ‘Face-to-face with her past, Audra Ellison now knows the secret she gave up everything—including her memory—to protect. A secret made vulnerable by her rediscovery, and so powerful neither the Historian nor the traitor Prince Nikola will ever let her live to keep it. With Luka in the Historian’s custody and the clock ticking down on his life, Audra only has one impossible chance: find and kill the Historian and end the centuries old war between the Progeny and Scions at last—all while running from the law and struggling to control her growing powers. With the help of a heretic monk and her Progeny friends Claudia, Piotrek, and Jester, Audra will risk all she holds dear in a final bid to save them all and put her powers to the ultimate test. Love, action, and stunning revelation reign in this thrilling conclusion to The Progeny.

Concluding one of the most well executed novels of recent years Tosca Lee delivers this second segment of her series THE HOUSE OF BATHORY with polished prose and a very keen sense of timing and drama that brings the legend of Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed to life. But Lee makes the story even more fascinating by blending the concept of Elizabeth’s descendents and their gradual demise through near sci-fi means. With Lee the story seems all actual and terrifyingly real. Step aside Bram Stoker et al – Lee Tosca reigns! . Grady Harp, April 18

I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.