The Adventure of the Dux Bellorum by Cynthia Ward: Book Review

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The Adventure of the Dux Bellorum by Cynthia WardThe Adventure of the Dux Bellorum by Cynthia Ward is an alternate history, speculative fiction adventure novel.

The Adventure of the Dux Bellorum is the second novel in the Blood-Thirsty Agent series by Cynthia ward. It takes place four years after The Adventures of the Incognita Countess. Lucy Harker is the secret daughter of Dracula. As a dhampir, she uses her powers in service of the British Empire, slaying rogue vampires and spying on the Germans. The war is in full swing and Lucy is tasked with protecting a disgraced Winston Churchill where he’s stationed along the front lines.

It’s been said that same German scientist, Dieter Kruger, who stole Martian technology from the British has continued his work for the Germans. Rumors swirl across the countryside of flying dinosaurs, bands of marauding wolf men, disappearing German girls, and the discovery of a passage to the center of the Earth that has yielded unlimited gold. Lucy is faced with grim odds when Churchill is taken by the wolf-men. Unfortunately, Dr. Kruger has even more dastardly inventions than even rumors allow for. On top of all the other troubles, Lucy’s vampire lover, Countess Clarimal Karnstein, has decided that their relationship is detrimental to Lucy’s soul and refuses to continue, though she vows to help Lucy see through her mission to rescue Churchill.

The Characters

Lucy is ruthless, steadfast, and a strongly independent woman. She loves Clarimal and doesn’t care what anyone else has to say about it. She is also absolutely loyal to Britain, even when she’s forced to protect a man who has been notoriously against women’s rights. I love her spirit and professionalism.

Clarimal is more of a mystery, though you can tell she loves Lucy dearly. She is distraught each and every time Lucy “dies”, despite the fact that she always resurrects, being dhampir. Each character written by Ward has their own unique flavor. Even Churchill’s words and actions seem legitimately like something that would have occurred at the time. It takes an implausible alternate history and makes it seem that much more real.

The Writing Style

The pace of Dux Bellorum matched that of the first book. This was more of an action adventure tale than a romance, and the pace remained quick throughout. Situations arose, and were rectified in time, and at no point did I find it too slow or too fast to properly tell the tale.

The Pros

I’m a big speculative fiction fan, as both a writer and a reader. And in both capacities I particularly enjoy when the various specific themes and tropes merge into one novel. Cynthia Ward does this in such a seamless manner that you wonder if this is the way it always should be done.

The Cons

This was a short novel, as are both novels in the series. This second book has even less romance than the first so if that’s a prerequisite for your reading, you may not enjoy it as much.

The Conclusion

If you at all like speculative fiction action novels, this book is probably for you. While I, myself, and not a huge fan of historical pieces, especially during the time of either world war, I couldn’t help but be enamored with Cynthia Ward’s alternate world of the time. It’s interesting, exciting, and she tells a great tale.

Excerpt from The Adventure of the Dux Bellorum by Cynthia Ward

I’m halfway to the ground floor when faint sounds come from the front door.

A click in the lock rouses Catherine. Raising her head, she turns towards the hallway. She notices me on the stairs.

“That’s your carry-sack.” She speaks softly, though with surprise. “You’re not coming back?”

I mouth words. “Someone’s picking the lock of the front door. Leave through the back door and bring the police.”

Though her pallor becomes marked, Catherine rises. She starts for the kitchen, taking care to be quiet. I continue down the staircase, moving slowly and keeping to the inside edge to minimise creaking boards. I wish I still had my Webley.

Before I reach the ground floor, the door opens. A dark-haired woman slips through, followed by a dark-haired man with a clean-shaven face. The pair appear to be about my age, which is twenty-five. They look strong and well fed in the light from the open door.

The pair look about intently. They don’t see Catherine entering the kitchen, or my descent of the stairs. Their eyes are still adjusting to the darkness of the interior.

The man holds a Luger. The woman is placing her lock pick and torsion wrench in a small pouch on her belt. Her belt also has a Ruby pistol in a holster and a laden ammunition pouch. She wears men’s clothing, the black fabric tailored for her boyish figure.

The texture of their hair and shape of their eyes tell me the pair have a blood tie. It’s confirmed by the mortals’ scents, which come to me on the chill draft from the open door. The sweet, flowery notes of fresh opium smoke explain the dreamy remoteness in the woman’s eyes.

The pair register my presence only when I fling myself towards them.

I’ve failed to consider that someone might have got into the house through an upstairs window. There’s a curious, forceful whp of sound from behind and above me, and a point sinks to the bone behind my left knee.

As I struggle to keep my balance, I hear a second whp. A dart pierces my right leg behind the knee. I fall.

I twist my head to find a man on the stairs.

He’s tall and thin, with a long, narrow face and a full-lipped Teutonic pout. In his bright complexion, the eyes show no more colour than ice. Black boots and a tight-fitting black tunic and leggings cover everything to the pale neck and hands. A drawstring sack hangs open on the narrow black belt about his waist. A sort of coronet confines his long, almost colourless locks and holds electrodes against his brow. He might be twenty, or fifty.

He bears a bamboo blowgun longer than he is tall, and descends the stairs with a languorous grace.

An ivy leaf caught in his hair reveals everything. He moved noisily from the lorry to the neighbour’s door to hide his companions’ stealthy approach to this villa, then slipped into Catherine’s garden and climbed or leaped up a wall to the level of the first floor. When he heard me descending the stairs, he slipped through an open window.

Taking a slender hand from the blowgun, he points at me where I lie, twisting to pluck the darts from my legs. “Vladimir, the Pellucidarean curare seems not to affect the dhampir,” he says in the Hessian dialect. “Do something about it.”

As I attempt to rise, the black-haired man lunges, swinging the butt of his Luger against my temple. Bone gives way with a crunch and exploding stars fill my sight. I sink down again.

Through the star-bursts, I see the woman draw her pistol and study it dreamily. With her head bent, her bobbed hair hangs over her face. It obscures her jawline and bares the nape of her neck, where the morning light finds the tiny tattoo of a skull.

The descending man addresses her in English spiked with German. “I hear one of the Urninden leaving through the back door, and the rest of the household waking. Leave off your Opiumtraum, Hélène, and catch her.”

As she runs past, I reach for her ankle and miss.

Holding the bamboo tube like some fabulous flute, the languorous man pauses on the bottom step. He plucks a dart from his belt-pouch. Most of the dart is a sharp point, three inches long. He fits the dart in the gun and addresses me in English.

“Pellucidarean curare is superior to the South American variety. It takes one of these darts less than thirty seconds to kill a mortal. For a dhampir, it seems to have no effect.”

Shaking my head in an attempt to clear it, I whisper, “Who are you?”

“Dieter Krüger.” He sneers. “A son of Fantômas.”

The arch-criminal Fantômas has three offspring known to British intelligence. Two are the dark-haired young man and woman. The third isn’t this man.

Could this be Fantômas himself?

He has the scent and languor and high colour of the upióry. He’s awake when Clarimal is in her coffin, but some upióry sleep from midday to dusk. There’s never been anything to suggest Fantômas is a vampire. But an upiór is created by death at a revenant’s hand, and it’s suicides who rise as revenants. Fantômas has driven many to suicide.

Did one of these victims rise from the grave and find him? “Fräulein Harker,” he says, “did it never occur to you that Herr Doktor Krüger has been circulating a description of you and your female paramour through the Fatherland for years?” He smiles, his eye-teeth lengthening. “Your degenerate friends’ nosy neighbour wins the reward, although I’ll see to it she doesn’t collect.” He raises the mouth of the blowgun to his lips, then pauses. His smile widens. “Let’s see if three darts kill a dhampir.” He sends his breath down the tube and the projectile punctures my throat.

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Series

Blood-Thirsty Agent series

The Adventure of the Incognita Countess

The Adventure of the Dux Bellorum

Bits and Bobs

  • ISBN number: 9781619761537
  • Publisher: Aqueduct Press
  • Cynthia Ward Online  

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