Review: The Adventure of the Incognita Countess, by Cynthia Ward

I love the conceit – used in a variety of media – that characters we know as fictional are real, and that the events of famous books actually happened. So I was thrilled to find a novella in which Lucy Harker (daughter of Mina and Jonathan Harker, biological daughter of Dracula) must go on a covert mission on the Titanic, the first steamship built with technology recovered from the failed Martian Invasion (War of the Worlds). The Adventure of the Incognita Countess, by Cynthia Ward, did not disappoint.

Ward’s novella has a light, airy feeling. She does a masterful job of blending fictional characters with historical figures such as Mrs. Margaret Brown and Major Archibald Butt. The writing is basically modern in style, but with turns of phrase and observations that keep it rooted in the time period. I am not an expert on late Edwardian manners, but Ward evokes a rigid society, bound by class rules and social propriety.

This is a story of manners, a romance, and an adventure-tale, all in one. Lucy may be a covert, half-vampire operative working for the British government, but she must maintain the appearance of being an ordinary 21 year old girl. Much of the text focuses on her struggles to avoid arousing suspicion, and her (generally non-complimentary) views of the people around her. At the same time, she’s ferreting out foreign agents and struggling with her feelings for another passenger.

It’s also a coming of age story, in as much as Lucy starts to think for herself. While she is a strong personality throughout, this story sees her transform from someone who parrots the beliefs she has been taught, to one who is beginning to question some of that received wisdom. We watch her discard what she has assumed about the strength of human women, class relations, and even monsters such as vampires. It’s quite a journey, and one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Lucy provides us with some bisexual representation, too. Though she initially believes that her childhood experimentation with another girl was a youthful phase (because her stepfather told her so) and has since taken up with a male suitor, the main romantic plot of the book revolves around another lady on the Titanic. While it’s made clear that sapphic activities are not socially acceptable, the narrative doesn’t dwell on it, instead focusing on the much more interesting question of whether or not vampires are capable of emotion.

This is a fun book if you enjoy playing “spot the classic literary character,” historical fiction, women who love women, or light social critiques. It is divided into chapters, but I found that it flowed better when read all in one day, if not in one sitting. I think this would be a perfect choice for a lazy summer day stuck at home.

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