HarperCollins, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-109884-1
Contemporary Gothic Fiction, 2000
“Ooh, a Gothic melodrama!” was my first thought upon finishing the first chapter of The Count. Immediately I put the book down and went to play some Chinese opera on the stereo just for the mood. Not forgetting the giant bag of peanut butter M&M’s, of course. This book is told from the viewpoint of our heroine and narrator Ella.
Ella is contracted to marry Rudi, the dark, enigmatic, and oh-so-mysterious Count von Drachenfels. She doesn’t know it but the Count is afflicted by a curse that plagued his family for twenty generations now. The curse dictates that every first Countess von Drachenfels would die in childbirth and the heir wouldn’t survive. Hence, I guess every Count marries more than once to continue the lineage. Hmm.
Rudi has a mistress Nadine whom he refuses to marry as a result of the curse. So Nadine points out a loophole – the curse didn’t say anything about second wives dying. Ergo, Ella comes into the scene. Ella, who has just lost her husband and money, is so deep into depression that she just go, “Yes, yes, marry schmarry! Play the wedding march, people!”
Ella moves to Rudi’s German manor, and starts seeing ghosts of dead Countesses. However, Ella begins to display a chronic case of Doormaticus Irritant – that woman allows herself to be led by anyone in the story. She never does anything. Anything you say, Nadine dear. Yes, you’re right Rudi. Rudi, Nadine, their immediate relatives and friends all have fun dancing their tango on Ella’s body that I have a hard time keeping my blood pressure under control at such passivity.
Okay, Ella’s depressed. But they have medication for that, you know.
And Rudi and Ella’s relationship is not even half-baked, it is severely undercooked. Most of the time they are not even together, and when they are, they generate as much chemistry as oil and water. And when the pages are running out, Ella realizes – ta-da! – she loves Rudi. Why? Beats me. She probably hit her head hard against the wall somewhere.
I like Nadine much better than Ella – at least the former has the guts to be malicious and evil. But you know how things are – smart, intelligent women never win. It is the passive, subjugated, self-pitying Cinderella that gets the Prince Charming – spunky Esmeralda only gets lynched and hanged. Not that Rudi’s much of a Prince Charming. That man is too cold, too stiff-lipped, and he doesn’t seem to show any realization that his plan with Nadine means that he would cause the death of the woman he “loves” (I use “loves” because I have no idea why he loves her). Or if he does, zero guilt or remorse.
In the end I do think though that it is nice to see Ella and Rudi walking off into the sunset together. Two gloomy, passive, and unlikeable dolts who nicely get paired off and are hence eliminated from the romance hero/heroine gene pool. Bad enough the characters are as cold and distant as an Antarctica glacier, this story has only 256 pages and it feels rushed too. Hence, The Count is complete lightweight. Great spooky atmosphere and prose though.