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The Adventure of the Dux Bellorum
By Cynthia Ward
Aqueduct Press, $12.00, 156pp
Published: September 2018

"Lesbian vampire spies on the Western Front!" Any book with a tag line like that deserves attention, and when the main character is Lucy Harker, the dhampir daughter of Mina Harker and Dracula, then I know it's a return to some interesting historical pulp fiction by Cynthia Ward.

The Adventure of the Dux Bellorum is an alternate reality story and the second novella in the Blood-Thirsty Agent series. You may well recognize some of the character names in the story, some from her previous book if you've read it and others from literary or real life history.

Lucy Harker is an intelligence agent for the British government, taking orders directly from her stepfather, "M", better known as Mycroft Holmes. Her assignment: protect Winston Churchill on the Western Front.

Now, Winston is sure he can take care of himself and that whispers of a battalion of wolfmen is nothing more than unjustified rumors, but he is willing to let Lucy accompany him, posing as his driver since he is aware of her true nature as a dhampir. Lucy has great strength and many other vampire traits. Though she doesn't need to sleep during daylight hours, she can live on regular food as much as blood; the blood is usually reserved for when she has died or is severely injured.

After a month at the front, they hear that over a hundred girls have gone missing in Germany. It isn't something that they have anything to do with currently, being that they are over a hundred miles away, but Churchill still finds it peculiar and unsettling news. Not too long after, while on night patrol, Lucy and Winston are attached by a group of twenty wolfmen with electrodes protruding from their foreheads. The two fight bravely, but they only have thirteen silver bullets between them; though they manage to fell all those they fire upon, that still leaves seven wolfmen to fight hand-to-hand. Lucy jumps in front of Winston and yells for him to get back to base. She is taken down by several wolfmen and the last thing she remembers as her head hits a tree root is a great winged lizard in the sky.

Lucy wakes up in her own room with Clarimal Stein aka Carmilla Karnstein, an ancient vampire who also happens to be Lucy's Austrian lover and a British agent, at the foot of her bed. She was recruited by Lucy in the first book, "The Adventure of the Incognita Countess", while on her first assignment several years prior onboard the Titanic. Carmilla is still shaken; even knowing that Lucy resurrects like she herself does, she goes on about how broken Lucy's body had been. Lucy is more concerned about failing her duty when she hears that Churchill has been abducted. After slaking her thirst and healing her body on the blood of an enemy soldier, the two lovers take up the chase to find him.

Drama, action and heartbreak unfold on their way and things really begin to break loose after arriving in Germany. Vampires, wolfmen, pterodactyls and a mad scientist... oh, my! Can our heroine survive and save Winston Churchill, the missing girls and the woman she loves?

I really enjoy how this novella played out; it ups the game on Cynthia Ward's first novella in this series. Though they do have an ending to each story, they still remind me of the days of watching serial films with cliffhangers, so stay tuned for the next installment. I look forward to the next exciting adventure! ~~ Dee Astell

For more titles by Cynthis Ward click here

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