With The Bloodletter’s Daughter Linda Lafferty retells the legend of mad Don Julius, illegitimate son of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, and his murder in 1608 of an innocent Bohemian bath maid. This telling takes the form of a thriller, but the author is too wise to think her readers are as much in the dark as the citizens of the time.
The story features a good many actors with axes to grind, maybe too many to do any single character the justice of a full fictional treatment. The king imprisons his schizophrenic bastard son Don Julius in a newly purchased castle and simultaneously awards him lordship and governance over the region. The bath maid catches his eye, and her ambitious mother engineers a near-fatal assignation for her and the prince. Death and destruction threatens the town unless the prince gets his way in the end. In addition, Catholics and Protestants in Hungary must unite to fight the infidel Ottomans who encroach ever farther into Europe. There’s a lot going on, and affairs of state, even when they involve mad murderous princes, take precedence over the most basic characterization and internal dialogue.
I found precious little to sympathize with along the way, and felt finishing the book was simply an exercise gratefully completed. I do appreciate the researchthat went into this, and the honest attempt to capture Don Julius’s madness; these were effective and commend the book. Overall, however, it was time that could be better spent.