An adventure with hints of humour and romance, Savarna Yang
15 April, 2021
“Why is the human female valued so low that many women see themselves and others as not fit to live?”
Around the world, mysterious emails arrive at schools asking teenagers to “help missing women” by researching the subject and coming up with a proposal. The writers of the twenty most effective sounding plans will be invited to present them at an unnamed place in Europe, all expenses paid. The sender, styling herself Countess X, is met with suspicion in most instances – how can it not be a hoax? It sounds too good to be true.
But a few students and teachers check it out and decide to give it a go. The story focuses on four teams: India, South Africa, the Cook Islands and New Zealand. From India there’s Tivra and Chaitali, whose teacher decides they’re the girls to come up with a plan for the countess. Tivra loves photography and Chaitali is great at maths. They use these skills to help them with their proposal.
From South Africa there’s Jia, Ling and Gavan. The three of them are there at a mission school. Jia and Ling are sisters who are originally from Taiwan but have had to move wherever their parents’ work takes them. They already have some idea about the problem. Gavan is a Scottish boy who decides to join them (he also has a crush on Jia…)
The Cook Island team are Makani and Kimiora. Makani is at first only interested in the part where you get a free trip to Europe but as they both do some research, she discovers that she really wants to help. Kimiora is keen from the start but when her father hears about what they’re doing, he’s not so sure and for a while it looks as though she won’t be allowed to be a part of the project.
Sage and Violet (Vee) make up the New Zealand team. Sage is an eco-activist who Vee forms a bargain with: she’ll tell her mum (who’s their school’s principal) that Sage is working on the countess’s project with her but really Sage can get on with climate change work. Sage starts to get interested though and ends up creating the main part of their plan.
When I chose The Dark Quest of Countess X from the book list, this was not what I expected. But that doesn’t mean the unexpected was a disappointment! Right from the start I was hooked. I stayed up so late reading, my eyes felt like they were only half open the next day (which was no good for trying to read the end of the book).
Discussing current serious issues, this book is educational but in a story form which I really liked. It’s so much easier to get interested in these problems than if you read about the same thing in, say, a newspaper article. My one critique would be that I found certain emotions a bit exaggerated – for instance Gavan’s reaction to some of the information their team found out:
“…Gavan slumped forward, his head in his hands. His shoulders shook and he muttered incoherently. As he rocked back and forth, thumping one fist on the table pens fell to the floor and Jia scooped piles of pages to safety.”
This would work if he was trying to be humourous but I don’t think that was what was meant.
Other than that though, I loved the story. With hints of humour and romance making the plot and characters easier to relate to, this is a must-read for anyone interested in the issue. Probably suited to ages 12+ (the topic is more for mature readers.) Thank you for a really interesting read L P Hansen!
- Savarna Yang is 12 years old and lives outside Dunedin.