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The Dark Quest of Countess X

Calling herself Countess X, one of Europe’s richest billionaires invites the world’s youth to take up a modern-day Quest. Will they help her to challenge a colossal abuse of human rights? Teenagers submitting the most effective suggestions will be welcomed at her European residence to present their plans. But these submissions must be their own work.

More than forty young people converge on the château to share their plans and meet with wealthy philanthropists and others prepared to put the plans into practice. Tensions accelerate as cheats are expelled, hostilities revealed and romances bloom. Then the pace of the Quest quickens – changing the participants forever.

Publisher: Oneopoto Press
Format: Paperback, 276 pages
ISBN: 978-0-473-55926-7
Teachers’ resource: download PDF
Teachers’ resource: slideshow with artwork (murals on trafficking) (PDF)
Order: direct from author below

NOTE: This book is endorsed by Child Alert (ECPAT) NZ. ECPAT Child Alert upholds the fundamental rights for children in Aotearoa NZ to be free from all forms of commercial sexual exploitation.

Industry and readers’ reviews for The Dark Quest of Countess X

Michele A’Court, writer, social commentator, comedian

This is a terrific read, delightful not just for young adults but for the older adults in their lives. It gives a bigger picture of how we humans can – as historically proven – live equably together. The Quest to find the world’s missing women and girls offers challenges – and then hope.

Eleanor Parkes, Director, Child Alert (ECPAT) NZ

I’m very excited about this book which makes urgent issues real and accessible while leaving young readers feeling empowered. I’m hooked!

An adventure with hints of humour and romance. Right from the start I was hooked.

15 April 2021, review by Savarna Yang.*

“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.

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.

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 is 12 years old and lives outside Dunedin.

Beautifully crafted YA-fiction, so current that it has a reference to Greta Thunberg by page five! 

The Dark Quest of Countess X draws on the work of Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winning economist, and follows four groups of teenage students from Cook Islands, South Africa, New Zealand and India as they respond to a challenge related to his research. Their challenge is to design interventions to help the poorest, dispossessed and most vulnerable women and girls in the world. As these young people research and analyse their chosen topics, the reader is kept constantly informed and inspired. A great read.

Bridget Pidford

Dark Quest: inspiring and stirring tale of feminism and awareness

This inspiring and stirring tale of feminism and awareness comes with hints of humour and romance and will provide readers with a slew of new knowledge to take into their daily lives without the sometimes-tediousness of standard non-fiction texts. Kiwi based author L P Hansen does an excellent job of highlighting misogyny in current societies around the world in a way which is comprehensible for a young adult audience.

The novel follows four groups of young people from the Cook Islands, South Africa, New Zealand and India as they learn about the prevalence of human rights abuses in contemporary societies and form solutions to it. They’re brought together by Countess X, one of Europe’s richest people, who has invited the world’s youth to take up a modern-day quest and help her to challenge colossal human rights’ abuses around the globe.

Readers are confronted with the reality of human trafficking, arranged marriage, slavery and other events which affect real women all around the current world. Not only does Hansen outline the harmful actions and subconscious beliefs within modern patriarchal society, she also provides options to help solve the distinct issues specific to the varying cultures. She does this through the groups of each country with each one asked to formulate an original plan for a country other than their own which, when brought to fruition, will be a large step towards solving issues.

The interactions between the teams, and the different perspectives of varying cultures is thought-provoking, as personal connection and outside opinions influence the participants’ perspectives of each other and their ideas. Through friendship, romance, tensions and hurt, the young participants are changed forever at the conclusion of the Quest. The challenges brought by the new adventure lead to growth and the realistic experiences of the budding students are easily and personally relatable to the audience.

Hansen takes on heavy topics well with her fast-paced writing style, making the text suitable for a slightly older young adult audience. The language can be complex at times and the confronting subject matter will weigh heavily on many young reader’s consciousness. Nonetheless, readers are inspired to find, and confront issues, as the upcoming generations are already involved in change, much like the young protagonists depicted in the story.

Facts are incorporated into fiction well, making the story interesting and educational without ever being dull. However, the novel does get repetitive as each group goes through the identical process of receiving the invitation, gathering information and then creating and presenting ideas. Yet it’s clearly well-researched; the inclusion of helpful resources at the conclusion of the book provides the option for readers to act upon the new information, as the novel inspires significant thought about the reader’s own actions and involvement.

L P Hansen is an educational author who has previously written about palm oil, animal welfare and World War I with the aim of increasing and inspiring awareness within younger generations. Personally, I learnt a lot from this novel and I am intrigued to see what other issues Hansen will cover in books to come.

Reviewed by: Link Pickering for KETE BOOKS ( Newsletter 20 May 2021

Inviting springboard for research – Tui Motu Magazine

Review in Tui Motu Magazine, by Catharina van Bohemen — August 31, 2021

New Zealander L P Hansen writes about “real kids in real adventures” which include current universal crises such as bullying, climate change and consumerism. The Dark Quest of Countess X, her fourth novel, summons the world’s youth to help our “missing women”. This phrase was first used in 1990 by economist-philosopher Amartya Sen who observed that in parts of the world – particularly China and India – the ratio of women to men was suspiciously low. He estimated that there were 100,000,000 vanished women; by 2015 researchers suggested the number had risen to more than 200,000,000.

The Dark Quest of Countess X is a heart-warming tale about teenagers from many countries, including Aotearoa, who fly to Liechtenstein to present their research and strategies to help today’s oppressed or invisible women and girls, to the benevolent Countess X in her fairy-tale chateau.

Themes such as the value of collaboration, a reappraisal of world mythologies, history and culture, and the joy of learning – books and the internet – underpin the thrills of the quest.

The story’s easy style and pace, its likeable lightly-sketched characters, and its helpful links to websites and organisations on this contemporary global horror, make The Dark Quest of Countess X an inviting springboard for research in our schools.