For today’s entertainment, I’m going to tell you about two short, enjoyable works of fiction. One’s a novella, and the other’s a novel, and both of them are very engaged in the project of having fun.
Cynthia Ward’s The Adventure of the Dux Bellorum is a sequel to her The Adventure of the Incognita Countess, which set itself aboard the Titanic in a world where H.G. Wells’ Martian invasion and many other creations of late 19th and early 20th century pulp literature are real, including the vampire Carmilla—now known as Clarimal—and Dracula.
Lucy Harker is the late unlamented Dracula’s half-vampire daughter, and an agent for the British secret services. In The Adventure of the Incognita Countess, in the course of international espionage and intrigue, she met and began a relationship with Clarimal, who has repented of her once-bloodthirsty ways. Now, with the Great War well underway, both Lucy and Clarimal are working for British intelligence. Lucy is assigned as a bodyguard for Winston Churchill, who has taken a commission on the Western Front in the wake of political disgrace. When Churchill is abducted by mind-controlled wolfmen in the employ of German mad scientist Dr. Krüger, Clarimal finds Lucy left for dead.
But her half-vampire heritage makes Lucy very hard to kill. Together, they race to find Churchill before Dr. Krüger can turn him against the British empire, but Lucy finds her concentration affected when Clarimal, stricken by fear for Lucy’s immortal soul after witnessing her near death, decides to end their relationship—shortly before both of them and their allies are also kidnapped by Dr. Krüger, his vampire allies, and his mind-controlled dinosaur.
There’s a word for this kind of story, and that word is gonzo. Utterly unashamed kitchen-sink-including adventure fun. (Though Lucy is a British imperial chauvinist, and while the narrative calls her on her hypocrisy, it could do it a lot more and it wouldn’t be enough. And Ward is a lot kinder to Churchill than I could ever be.) This is the modern, feminist, queer version of a Boy’s Own Adventure story, and Ward brings it all together in a satisfyingly explosive and emotionally meaningful conclusion.
By which I mean: yes, Lucy and Clarimal work it out.
M.C.A. Hogarth’s Alysha Forrest: Sword of the Alliance is a new self-published novel in Hogarth’s Pelted space opera universe. In this volume, a marginal colony has been covering up strife in the form of both pirate raids and nascent civil war. When a promising Fleet officer goes AWOL while home on leave and when the rumours of civil war mount to such a degree that Fleet can no longer ignore it, Alysha Forrest, recently made captain of the Fleet ship Stardancer, is dispatched to investigate.
Alysha’s investigation turns up quite a complicated situation. This isn’t something that she’s comfortable leaving for the diplomats—even if she had time to summon some. Solving the problems will require a combination of empathy and direct action: Alysha’s trademark.
With a Fleet reminiscent of Star Trek’s Federation, a compelling set of characters, and a good blend of action and interpersonal politics, Sword of the Alliance is good solid light fun. I enjoyed it a lot.
What are you guys reading lately?
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award in Best Related Work. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.