Baroness Of Blood
by Elaine Bergstrom, fantasy (1995)
TSR, $4.95, ISBN 0-7869-0146-2
Baroness Of Blood intrigues me because this is the story of an evil woman. Even better, Ilsabet Obour is evil not because of a broken heart or other clichéd excuses for why a woman would turn into a monster - she is evil because she has no moral compass. I've always been interested in reading a story with such a main character, since a good female villain can be hard to find in fiction.
In a land called Kislova, Baron Janosk Obour is a beloved father and husband. He is the lord of he surveys... and the object of fear and loathing of his subjects. Ilsabet, his daughter, however, doesn't have any objection to her father's bloody suppression of the opposition of his rule as civil war tears Kislova apart. When the Baron finally falls to the forces of Sundell and is executed shortly after, Ilsabet quietly bides for time and watches as Baron Peto Casse moves in as the new lord of the castle, marries her sister, and earns the devotion of her brother. Unlike her family members, she will not fall in with the new regime. Instead, she studies the dark arts from the besotted Jorani, the resident Merlin figure, and plots her revenge. Nothing will stand in her way of avenging her father - not even her own family members. And get this: Ilsabet is only sixteen when she begins her bloody campaign against those she considers her enemies.
Ilsabet's actions in this story can be deliciously nasty. She uses everything she has, including sex, to further her agenda. Some of the things she does here can shock readers, heh, as to Ilsabet, everyone and everything is expendable as long as she attains her goals. The closest sign that she is human is, probably, her devotion to her father and her love for Jorani as well as an unexpected admission in the last page, but she doesn't let love and other foolish emotions stand in the way of her revenge. She wrecks mayhem and destruction here, leaving behind a trail of victims, and really, it's beautiful to see Ilsabet in action.
However, a part of me will always wonder whether Ilsabet could have pulled off what she does if the characters around her weren't so stupid. Petro is a decent fellow whose blind idealism and sense of fairness soon becomes his downfall, especially as he seems determined to believe the best in everyone, including Ilsabet, for too long. Jorani is just pathetic as Ilsabet's devoted doormat. While he sometimes objects to Ilsabet's more bloodthirsty schemes, he always ends up assisting her anyway, even if it is at great cost to himself. Because Ilsabet is surrounded by fools, there is never any great sense of challenge of her actions - everything she does is guaranteed to succeed because nobody can stand up to her - and as a result, the story doesn't have a sense of urgency or suspense to give it an extra edge.
The events at the end may be confusing to readers unfamiliar with how Ravenloft, the setting of the series of which this book is part of, works. [spoiler starts] Basically, Ravenloft is a plane that serves as a luxurious high-security prison for villains of truly evil magnitude. These villains are pulled into Ravenloft by the fogs of that plane and given a kingdom to rule and do as they will, but these darklords are plagued by a curse that torments their existence as punishment for their sins. In the last few chapters of this book, the fogs are pulling the inhabitants of Nimbus Castle into Ravenloft. Ilsabet isn't aware that her land is no longer the same land, but an alternate version in Ravenloft. The revised history of the land in the people's head is evidence of this. Now ruling a domain also called Kislova in Ravenloft, Ilsabet is free to continue her reign of terror, but she is plagued by a curse: try as she might, she cannot kill Peto, and therefore, she cannot become the true ruler of Kislova like she wanted. The man she loves, Jorani, is permanently lost to her as he is now a vampire-like minion of hers. [spoiler ends]
Baroness Of Blood, at the end of the day, is almost a great book. But because Ilsabet's opponents always give way too easily and barely raise a decent opposition to her schemes, there is always a sense that this author has held herself back considerably. Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect more from Ilsabet, as this is in many ways a young adult novel and some of Ilsabet's actions here are already pushing the envelope. Still, Ilsabet Obour is a fantastic female villain, and it is a shame that she doesn't truly get to spread her wings and pit her abilities against worthy opponents in this book.
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