It’s no secret at all that I’ve been a huge fan of Karen J Carlisle’s ineffable knack for storytelling and world building since I fist encountered her Viola Stewart series a few years ago. Her beautifully entertaining paranormal series Aunt Enid has captured my heart too, but I have to confess that I have been missing the mysterious steampunkish world Viola inhabits with its secret societies and artefacts of wonder … so imagine my glee when I was sent an ARC of the first book in her new series The Department Of Curiosities -For The Good Of The Empire, which is set in the same world as the Viola Stewart stories! I couldn’t wait to click ‘open’ and begin reading and I’m happy to say it was all I could have hoped for and more…
Karen J Carlisle is one of those rare gems who’s storytelling captivated me from the first page and carried me expertly through a marvellous world of mysterious occurrences, secret societies, wondrous devices and characters I both loved and loved to hate.
Miss Matilda Meriwether is a strong, independent and resourceful character with secrets to protect and unravel and an agenda that is utterly her own. Having said this she is also realistic for the world and time period in which she exists and she wrangles with all the social and emotional baggage that women in the late Victorian era had to contend with. These both combine to make her an utterly believable and lovable character and I found myself feeling her frustrations and quandaries even as I admired her bravado and ingenuity. She is certainly a character I now want to follow through the rest of the series.
As for the plot I don’t want to reveal to much because the beauty of this book is in the secrets and surprises… young Matilda is trying to unravel a family secret with the help of a very unexpected and comically petulant and cryptic ‘guide,’ when she becomes entangled with The Department Of Curiosities. Tillie hopes that working for the department will bring her closer to solving her own mystery but of course life has a lot more in store for her before she gets there… this is a fabulous ‘gateway’ book for anyone new to Steampunk and for old hands it is an expertly woven tale incorporating everything we love about the genre from mad scientists, secret societies, strong heroines, dastardly villains, marvellous mysteries and incredible devices ; yet another another absolute treat from Karen J Carlisle.
A GUEST POST BY STEAMPUNK WRITER KAREN J CARLISLE…
<The Parlour door creaks open. Smoke drifts into the room. An old lady with a grey bob enters, shuts the door behind her and leans on her silver walking stick.>
Don’t worry, dears, the smoke should dissipate soon. I should’ve never left Agnes to watch the scones/oven. She always gets distracted, that one. I managed to save some scones for us.
< A plastic container thuds on the table.>
I’ve brought that new book you wanted. It took some trickery to pry it from the author’s hands, you know. They’d only just arrived by courier. She’s so excited. I thought you might like her to visit.
<The cane taps on the floor.>
Oh, sorry. I didn’t see you there. Are you here to see Max and Collin? We haven’t met have we? They said they would introduce us before they left. I’m Enid Turner.
Oh, dear that sounds very formal. <She smiles.> Just call me Aunt Enid.
They didn’t tell you I would be looking after the Parlour, today? They had to pop out to sell some lemonade… <She lowers her voice.> To earn the rent money.
<The clock strikes eleven. Aunt Enid sighs.>
It’s time for Elevenses already? Oh, dear, I am late, aren’t I? That explains why they aren’t here. That’s the problem with Relocation Magic. It’s not always reliable.
<She reaches into her apron pocket, retrieves a book and plops it onto the table. The kettle whistles in the kitchen.>
Do you prefer tea or coffee?
<Tea cups chink onto their saucers. The plastic container snaps open. The smell of freshly baked scones fills the room.>
I made scones and lemon butter. Why don’t you try some.
<She dribbles some honey into her coffee, her hand grips her walking stick as she waits.>
Why, thank you. It’s a family recipe. Are you feeling all right?
<She relaxes and rests the walking stick against her chair.>
Oh, good. Now that’s done, I suppose I should get started.
<She clears her throat.>
Ahem…Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Max and Collin’s rambunctiously ridiculous and chi-chi to the core parlour located somewhere within the lower intestines of the splendidly steampunk’d city of Lancaster.
Is that how it goes? Yes? Oh, good. I must apologise; Max and Collin said they would leave some questions for me, but I can’t seem to find them anywhere. I suppose I’ll have to ask the questions myself.
<She sips her coffee.>
Q: Tell us about the new book, Aunt Enid.
Oh, it’s just a little story Agnes and I wrote. My niece, Sally, insisted we publish it. But don’t believe everything you read.
Q: And what is The Dark?
There’s no such things as Shadows and Collectors, or The Dark. That sort of thing gives people nightmares.
<Aunt Enid frowns, picks up the book and reads.>
“When people start disappearing Sally is drawn into her aunt’s secret world and soon discovers her aunt is a Protector Extraordinaire.”
Yes, it’s my duty to stop it breaking through this world’s protective shell, and protect you all. That’s what a Protector does – in the story, that is.
Would you like another scone?
<Aunt Enid turns the book over and shifts in her seat.>
Q: Tell us about your garden?
Oh, I’d love to. Did you know hydrangeas change colour depending on the acidity of the soil? I like/prefer mine to be blue.
What’s that? Why blue? Well… I like blue. It’s a lovely colour don’t you think? Bees like blue. Oh, did I tell you about my bees? They are such lovely creatures. Very observant. As are garden gnomes.
Did I say that?
<Aunt Enid stares into her teacup and whispers to herself.> I wonder what Max has put into the coffee…
<Lightning flashes outside the window. Thunder rumbles over the roof tiles. Aunt Enid grasps her cane and glares out the window. Loud drops of water tap on the roof. Her hand relaxes and she rests her walking stick on her lap.>
Everything’s fine. It’s just a rain storm.
Oh, silly me. You mustn’t mind an old woman. One must be expected to get flustered at my age.
<She smiles, pulls a folded piece of paper from her pocket and places it on the table in front of you.>
Do you like the lemon butter? I promised Max and Collin I’d share my recipe with you.
<The front door slams shut. Footsteps hurry down the hall. Max and Collin enter the Parlour, dripping water all over the carpet.>
Well, it’s about time you two got back. You forgot to leave me some questions to answer.
Yes, Collin, I’ll leave the scones for your afternoon tea.
<Aunt Enid turns back to you, and smiles.>
Thank you for keeping an old lady company. I need to get back to Adelaide and get lunch ready. My Sally’s on afternoon shift at the hospital today. Just make sure Max and Collin don’t hog the scones.
Goodbye Aunt Enid! See you again soon we hope! … Hog the scones indeed! Who does she think we are, a pair of cake crazed tea guzzling lunatics without an ounce of self control when it comes to…. Max! Stop stuffing your face with scones, that is no way to behave in front of our guests… mind you they do look exceedingly tasty… and is that lemon butter? ….
You can read about Aunt Enid’s adventures in the first book of Karen J Carlisle’s new cosy paranormal mystery series, The Other Worlds Chronicles
“Daemons, fairies, magic: it’s all real!
The Otherworld is bleeding through cracks into our world. And Adelaide is ground zero. Something is coming. Something dark – trading souls for passage. And only one person stands between The Dark and the fate of the world.
Aunt Enid is just your average seventy-something year old. She loves to cook, is a regular at bingo and spends hours in her garden, talking to her army of garden gnomes and fussing over the colour of her hydrangeas…
When people start disappearing, her great niece, Sally, is drawn into a secret world and soon discovers her great aunt is a Protector Extraordinaire.”
Karen J Carlisle is a writer and illustrator of steampunk, Victorian mystery and fantasy.
She graduated in 1986, from Queensland Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Optometry and lives in Adelaide with her family and the ghost of her ancient Devon Rex cat.
Karen first fell in love with science fiction when she saw Doctor Who as a four-year old (she can’t remember if she hid behind the couch). This was reinforced when, at the age of twelve, she saw her first Star Destroyer. She started various other long-term affairs with fantasy fiction, (tabletop) role-playing, gardening, historical re-creation and steampunk – in that order.
She has had articles published in Australian Realms Roleplaying Magazine and Cockatrice (Arts and Sciences magazine). Her short story, An Eye for Detail, was short-listed by the Australian Literature Review in their 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition. Karen’s short story, Hunted, featured in the ‘A Trail of Tales’ exhibition in the 2016 Adelaide Fringe.
She writes full-time and can often be found plotting fantastical, piratical or airship adventures.
Karen has always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuses a cup of tea.
She is not keen on the South Australian summers.
Where to find Karen:
Twitter: @kjcarlisle – https://twitter.com/kjcarlisle
For information on where to buy Karen’s books: http://www.karenjcarlisle.com/shop
You can also follow Aunt Enid’s progress on the book’s FB page.
In the interests of Transparency, a note from Penny : I have the potential to earn a small amount of income through the Amazon Associates program should visitors to this site choose to purchase Aunt Enid – Protector Extraordinaire via the featured links in this article – Penny 🙂
Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!
Helping me this morning is steampunk and fantasy author, Karen J Carlisle, writer of ‘Doctor Jack’ which Max and Collin recommended to us all on Monday. Good morning Karen, thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today! Tell me, have you brought along some soup to share with us?
“Thank you, Mrs Baker. I’ve got our version of homemade leek and potato soup. I grew the leeks myself. Here’s the recipe:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 leeks (pale section) – thinly sliced
- 4 celery sticks – halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 4 zucchinis – quartered and thinly sliced
- 700g potatoes – peeled and cut into 1.5cm squares
- 1.5 L (6 cups) salt reduced chicken stock
- Handful of spring onions – chopped
Heat the oil in a large saucepan on low to medium heat. Add leek, celery and zucchini and cook until the vegetables are soft (about 10 minutes). Add potatoes and stock. Cover and heat on med to high heat, until boiling. Reduce to simmer and cook, partly covered, until the potatoes are soft (about 15 minutes).
You can feed a hungry horde of eight.”
Mmm, it smells delicious, and how wonderful that you grew the leeks yourself! Here in Lancaster, Lord Ashton is apparently building a sky-garden so that every resident can have their own vegetable plot so perhaps I will try my hand at leek growing too! Now then, while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t you tell us all a little more about the heroine of your book series, Viola Stewart?
“Viola is an intelligent woman living in a man’s world. She studied, in Edinburgh, to become a doctor but was refused registration because of her sex. After her husband died, she became an optician. She is also an inventor, amateur detective and avid reader.”
Doctor Jack is based on the well-known London mystery of Jack The Ripper, however you manage to take the reader on an exciting and unexpected journey as Viola investigates, what inspired you to put a new twist on this famous tale?
“I was watching a documentary on Jack the Ripper and wondered what would happen if my recurring villains, The Society (aka the Men in Grey), tried to use him in their plans – and what if he had plans of his own? Of course, even the villain has a past – old acquaintances and a family. Perhaps he and Viola had already met? During my research I discovered little tit bits suggesting various alternatives to the traditional narrative.
I love ‘what ifs’.”
Ah, the old ‘what-if-itis’ … I believe it is the curse of every true steampunk! Now,the cover art and presentation of your books is absolutely beautiful, do you design the covers yourself?
“Yes, I do. After high school, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be a writer, a photographer/cinematographer, an artist/designer, an astronaut, or the Doctor’s next companion. I wanted to do it all. I chose the safe option and finished a Bachelor of Applied Science in optometry. I recently changed careers (long story) and now I get to do photography, design, make book trailers as well as write. Perhaps I am trying to make up for lost time?”
My goodness you certainly have a lot of strings to your bow! And do you have any more mysteries for Viola to solve in the near future?
“Oh, yes. I’ve just published a second journal of Viola’s adventures, Eye of the Beholder & Other Tales, with a second set of short stories and a new novella. There’s mummies and curses and madness. I’ve already started working on the third book in the series.”
As well as writing wonderful books you are also a talented artist have you brought any of your work to show us today?
“I’m participating in Inktober again this year. Inktober is a concept, created by Jake Parker: 31 days, 31 inks. The aim of the project is to practice and improve my ink work and drawing skills. I post to my Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook pages.
This year I started with some characters you may recognise:
Viola Stewart and dear Doctor Henry Collins and Doctor Jack…”
“I’ve just released the Doctor Jack design as a t-shirt on my Redbubble store.“
Those really are amazing, Karen, and a t-shirt with Doctor Jack on the front sounds like a very splendid thing indeed, especially for Halloween! And do you have any new releases, workshops or events planned over the next few months?
“My short story, All that Glitters, is being published in an upcoming steampunk anthology, Den of Antiquity. It’s a story set in nineteenth century South Australia. I’m also attending a few local events: a local ‘mini comic con’ over the Halloween weekend – featuring local Adelaide writers, artists and comic book creators, and I have a table in the Artist Alley at Adelaide Supanova’s pop culture event, next month.”
Wonderful, so that is lots of places where fans can catch up with you! And now the all important question, I’ve heard that you are rather passionate about tea, but what is your favourite brew and how do you take it?
Max and Colin will be glad to hear you take your tea black! (or ‘neat’ as I think they term it.) you know, for an octopus, Collin has very strong opinions on adding milk to hot beverages.
Well now, here is your tea and thank you so much for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, Karen, it’s been wonderful to chat with you! Your home made soup smells delicious and I think it must be about ready so shall we start dishing it up?
“Definitely. And thanks for sharing your kitchen.”
A pleasure! Max and Collin will of course be ‘all punked up with no place to go’ tomorrow if you would care to join them in the parlour, and of course Peril will be sharing some fabulous fiction on Friday from his lovely library. I will be back next week with musician and youtuber Bellabeth giving me a hand to dish up the soup.
Blessings on your brew my dears!
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to Max and Collin’s predominately pristine and excessively existential parlour located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.
True, perhaps, some have called it a nightmarish landscape of unsavoury fancies and tasteless chinaware, but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.
You find us on this, dark and sinister, Monday morning playing the knife game – which is a lot easier for Max than it is for me (five fingers, of course, being far easier to negotiate than eight tentacles). Of course we are using our beautiful new skull spoon from Wild and Violet instead of an actual dagger – daggers being horribly dangerous and un-gentlemanly things to go throwing about the tea table, all the same, a slip with a spoon can also cause the need for a doctor, and luckily we have one in the house today! (Albeit a rather deadly, knife-wielding one)
If you are not sure what the knife game is you can watch Bellabeth sing a lovely version of it here, also with spoons…
Bella will be joining our darling Kitchen Witch on the 26th October so there is a splendid thing to look forward to!
And speaking of things to look forward to, I cannot wait to get my tentacles into our book this morning…
Karen J Carlisle has created a captivating steampunk series with her heroine, Viola Stewart – a widowed optician with a talent for detecting.
This book has the same comforting familiarity of picking up a Conan Doyle or an Agatha Christie but enough uniqueness in terms of plot and character to keep us on the edge of our leather armchairs throughout – you know by the end of the second page that you are both ‘in safe hands’ and ‘in for a thrilling ride’ – Most of us have heard the tales of Jack The Ripper but this new version goes beyond the common knowledge to reveal a chilling world of Grey-clad conspirators in which Viola must keep her wits about her if she is going to uncover the truth and survive.
Karen will be helping in The Soup Kitchen on Wednesday so make sure you drop by for a taste of her lovely home cooking and to hear more about Viola and her adventures…
But for now, just while our marvellous teapot is brewing us a nerve-settling sup of Monkey Picked Oolong by the Kent Tea And Coffee Company, (gosh, what are they playing at getting monkeys to pick tea? Reminds me of all that hard labour harvesting seaweed in The Sunken City) let us carefully place our oracular cephalopterois into his cup of hot water and see what futuristic fantasies it has to show us this morning…
Well, that is a little worrying to say the least…let’s hope that we never have such problems here in The New World, can’t have the tea plantations put into jeopardy! And think of the wheat! No wheat – no cake… now that is a spine-chilling thought!
But enough morbidity for now, the tea is brewed and it is time for us to say ‘chin chin pass the tin open the book and let’s begin…’ We wish you all a perfectly perilous morning dusted with dastardly delights, and we invite you back to join us in the parlour tomorrow for elevenses so until then
Be always, utterly yourself