(Aqueduct Press, March 2020, 116 pp.)
Reviewed by Michelle Ristuccia
“The Adventure of the Naked Guide” is the third novella in Cynthia Ward’s gothic historical fiction series following dhamphir Lucy Harker through a surreal alternate history Earth after a Martian invasion. After prowling the Titanic and then accompanying Churchill to the Western Front in previous installments, Lucy’s work as a secret service agent for the British Empire now brings her on a journey to the center of the Earth in a conscious tribute to Jules Verne and his contemporaries.
Cynthia Ward’s precisely executed diction and old-fashioned period grammar evoke early genre fiction classics in a delightful mix of adventure and philosophy. While battling prehistoric creatures from atop a spider-like vehicle reverse-engineered from Martian technology, Lucy begins to question the fallibility of scientific authorities who dismiss the hollow Earth theory and de facto condemn her attraction to female vampire Clarimal. The true beauty of Lucy’s dilemma shines through when we compare Ward to her avant-garde predecessors like Jules Verne, who purposefully challenged the status quo and promoted social reform.
Cynthia Ward’s Lucy Harker novellas give the modern reader an updated frolic through avant-garde genre fiction, a frolic frosted with a myriad of clever fandom-esque references sure to delight adventurous readers. Readers may wish to start from the beginning with “The Adventure of the Incognita Countess,” which describes how Lucy and Clarimal met and therefore begins the moral arc of their love affair, and the followup novella “The Adventure of the Dux Bellorum.”
Michelle Ristuccia enjoys slowing down time in the middle of the night to read and review speculative fiction, because sleeping offspring are the best inspiration and motivation. You can find out more about her other writing projects and geeky obsessions by visiting her blog and Facebook page.