So this happened.
So this happened.
I spent last weekend at Nimmitabel’s Steampunk @ Altitude festival, and the weekend before that at IronFest in Lithgow, so it’s been a wild steam-powered ride for the last couple of weeks.
But a few old pics related to HEART OF BRASS just came to my attention, so I’m posting them here before they return to the aether and vanish.
First, here are two pics from an unusual book review. Mawson is a bear, and one of my fellow Odyssey authors (he’s published under the more visual “Publisher Obscura” imprint). You can read his full review of HEART OF BRASS here. Here are some photos Mawson took, featuring his friends:
(This is the sort of thing that makes writers go “Squee!”)
Now here’s something I don’t think the general public has ever seen before: a picture that the publisher (Odyssey Books) provided way back in the very beginning of the cover-making process. This is a fabulous pic, but we ended up not using it.
You can print it out and colour it in, if you like.
Lovely, isn’t she?
Hello and welcome to Karen J Carlisle!
Karen J Carlisle is a writer and illustrator of steampunk, Victorian mysteries and fantasy. She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition. Her first novella, Doctor Jack & Other Tales, was published in 2015 and her short stories have featured in the 2016 Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’, and the ‘Where’s Holmes’ and ‘Deadsteam’ anthologies.
Karen lives in Adelaide with her family and the ghost of her ancient Devon Rex cat.
She’s always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuses a cup of tea. www.karenjcarlisle.com
Karen is just about to release The Department of Curiosities. Here’s the blurb:
Miss Matilda Meriwether has a secret. Actually, she has several. One of them has shaped her adult life. Another now controls it. Her Majesty Queen Victoria has control of the Empire. She is the Empire, and creator of its secrets. Sir Avery works for The Department of Curiosities – the keepers of secrets – especially if they are useful to the Empire. When Tillie finds herself in the employment of The Department of Curiosities, she realises this is the perfect opportunity to uncover the truth she has been searching for. But the Queen has other plans for her.
The Department of Curiosities is a steampunk tale of adventure, a heroine, mad scientists, traitors and secrets. All for the good of the Empire.
And here’s a guest blog:
What doesn’t kill me…
“Was mich nicht umbringt macht mich stärker.”
“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche (German philosopher),
Twilight of the Idols (1888)
Today I’m writing about writing processes, the evolution of The Department of Curiosities and a long, long journey through the dark.
In 2012 my life changed. For six months I floundered. I’d worked since I was fifteen. Now, suddenly and unexpectedly, I wasn’t. I was lost. How had this happened? Why had this happened? Why me? Why?
I was given professional advice: do something I like. “Find your bliss,” they said. “Do something for yourself.”
I’d always wanted to be a writer and artist, so I turned to a quirky fantasy story that had been mulling around in my head since the late 1980s. But my mood was too dark for the characters. I didn’t blame them. There were other stories wanting to be freed. I turned to a steampunk story I’d been toying with… An adventure. It had a name: The Department of Curiosities. I started writing.
For almost a year I wrote, as my professional world began to crumble, and finally crashed in 2014. I felt used, abused, betrayed, and abandoned. My mental health was stretched. After twenty-eight years of looking after everyone else – my family, my patients – I had to learn to look after myself (not as easy as it sounds). I felt selfish. I felt exhausted. I felt useless.
I stopped writing.
The characters of The Department of Curiosities slipped back into the shadows not wanting to entertain the Black Dog. I didn’t blame them either. Eventually, Viola Stewart stepped forward, willing to sacrifice herself (and her eye) to support and guide me through the next three years. Jack the Ripper, and various nefarious villains, helped me explore motives and psychology as I delved into the darker side of humanity: why do people do what they do? In the process I confronted my own daemons and my personal Black Dog, which constantly nipped at my heels.
Being trained as a scientist, I needed not only to put a name to my emotions, but to discover why I felt this way. Almost five years of professional help, and I hadn’t progressed beyond: Anxiety, ‘deep breathing’ and ‘finding my happy place’.
In 2018 I changed professionals, and was challenged to confront myself. I was diagnosed with PTSD. I started desensitisation therapy.
Finally I felt a slight ease. Things made sense. There was the odd moment of calm. A smile here and there. Aunt Enid popped by, providing a glimmer of hope in my writing worlds. She was beginning to open the doorway back to my original fantasy story… but I wasn’t (and am not) quite there yet.
Tillie stepped forward. She was ready to be heard. I glanced over my notes, pulled out my original manuscript (of almost 80,000 words). I started at the beginning –rewriting, scribbling down notes and plot changes as I went. The story was a little darker than I’d originally envisaged, but overall was a much lighter story than Viola’s murder mysteries, with adventure at its heart.
The Department of Curiosities is my longest story yet – at 104,000 (ish) words/420 pages. Most of the plot has remained intact, though I’ve rewritten almost everything – cutting back on ‘tell’, rewriting ‘inactive’ sentences and adding extra characters. I’ve learned so much about writing in the past five years! During the process, I discovered Tillie, like me, has been fighting to control her own life.
I’ve heard people describe writing as a form of therapy. But it’s not an easy path (at least not the one I took), and not one for the faint hearted. I confronted some dark themes, shied away from some, and embraced others. I discovered catharsis. I’ve excised a character’s eye in revenge, peeked into the darkness of the soul, confronted the feeling of helplessness, and struggled to free myself (and my characters) from the control (or at least the perceived control) of others. I’ve even visited the happier memories from my childhood.
It’s been a long journey, and looks to be a long, rocky trek ahead. Writing has played a major part, sometimes taking me on unexpected side paths, but all heading in one direction: forward.
I feel like I’m starting to free myself from years of expectations and self-denial and neglect. I’ve found a way to work through some of my darker thoughts. It’s helped me to accept (on good days) that I deserve ‘me time’, to look after myself and my mental health. As Writing has made me stronger. I’m starting to believe in myself again. I’m facing my fears and anxieties one at a time. Sometimes I win. Sometimes they do. Perhaps one day I will bring that Black Dog to heel?
The Department of Curiosities is my fifth book – and my longest (if you don’t count that fantasy book still squirming in the back of my head), not only in word count, but in gestation time. I wrote another five chapters and shuffled two chapters into the second book of the trilogy.
I started this journey in 2013. It’s taken five years to see it to completion. It’s taken a year to finally finish the final version of the manuscript.
The Department of Curiosities will be officially released on 22nd May (Tillie’s birthday). A perfect time for new beginnings…
You can find out more information on where to buy it at: www.karenjcarlisle.com/shop Check out the book trailers at https://karenjcarlisle.com/books/the-department-of-curiosities/book-trailers-the-department-of-curiosities/
If you want to follow the rest of The Department of Curiosities book launch blog tour, check out the links on my blog post: www.karenjcarlisle.com/DOC1bookblogtour You can sign up for my newsletter at: https://karenjcarlisle.com/sign-up-email-list/
Follow me on: · Twitter: https://twitter.com/kjcarlisle · Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/karenjcarlisle/ · Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KarenJCarlisle/
Or support me on Patreon (for less than a cup of coffee a month and you get cool rewards!): https://www.patreon.com/KarenJCarlisle
So my son will be five in a few months. His preschool gave him a box with a toy sheep, a toy cow, a toy bear, a toy zebra, and a rock. This is the story he wrote.
He is a genius. That is all.
Here is a picture of him trying to help the cat see through a kaleidoscope.
This weekend I shall be selling books at IronFest for the first time, AND running the “Madame Alchemist” escape room.
Next weekend I’ll be in Nimmitabel’s Steampunk @ Altitude festival, also selling books and running “Madam Alchemist”.
I’m hoping to finish edits on “Death at the Rectory” before I leave. I have no idea if this is realistic or not. It all comes down to the final chapter, which I am now going to attack. Wish me luck.
So I’ll be quite busy for the next 8 days as Goulburn Comic Con is literally tomorrow (free entry, Veolia Arena, 10am-5pm) and Wagga Wagga Gamma Con is literally one week later.
I haven’t been to either event before but I’m very excited about both.
Goulburn Comic Con is actually the reason my kids’ fantasy trilogy is accepted for publication. My publisher was there two years ago and came home desperate to have some more Middle Grade (roughly age 10-14) fiction. Guess who happened to have a completed middle grade trilogy sitting on her hard drive?
I literally received the physical copies of Book 2 yesterday, ready for Comic Con. Here it is!
Or, if you prefer to see your books side by side…
Look, I know book covers don’t gotta be pretty to be fantastic, but MINE ARE and I’m glad of it.
My parents lived in Wagga not long ago, and both my sister (of “Octopus and Family” fame) and I will have stalls there. ROAD TRIP BABY.
Right now I have the flu and I am semi-delirious. Tomorrow should be an interesting day!
See? I can do blindingly obvious clickbait too!
But I do legitimately want to explore my feelings about these two beautiful films, so here we are.
OBVIOUSLY team Wonder Woman and team Captain Marvel are all just one big ball of love and congratulations. And the fan art of the two superheroines is glorious. Do yourself a favour and let me google that for you.
Now, let’s talk. . .
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
In a romantic comedy, you expect to feel a certain gooshiness as the couple gets together at the end. You can experience that feeling a hundred times and it’s still worth seeing another romantic movie. So there’s PLENTY of room for two films that both make women (and humans in general) feel empowered, particularly since there are roughly a zillion that create a similar feeling in men.
Yes, that feeling of mighty feminine power is very similar in the two films. If one got you in the feels, the other one probably will too. I’ll talk about the precise flavour of those wonderful feelings a bit later, because these films are certainly not the same story.
WONDER WOMAN has a brilliant opening. The sheer shock of seeing COLOUR in a DC film was a revelation, and a revelation that paved the way for genuine sincerity and love throughout the movie. Kid Diana was instantly engaging and interesting, and showed us plenty about the core of who Diana is, and why (as well as very clearly showing both the world she lives in, and the characters of her mother and aunt—so the painful death and departure of Act 1 actually hurt—which is excellent writing).
And that fight on the beach, when a bunch of women with bows and arrows and spears face men with guns… and win? It’s unique, exciting, important to the overall plot (including the “shield” manoeuvre that Steve Trevor uses later) and it once again shows that our expectations about this movie are wrong.
The opening scene of CAPTAIN MARVEL is… dull. The character wakes up after a bad dream/memory. “Character wakes up” is probably the single most cliched opening of any story ever. It’s so very, very ordinary. Of course, the dream/memory she has is a crucial (arguably the crucial) moment in her entire mixed-up timeline, so that was definitely worth putting right up the front.
And when Captain Marvel realised her full powers and casts off ALL the gaslighting throughout the entire film, it was probably all the more powerful because of the ordinariness of the opening. I think it was a deliberate choice, designed to make the full film experience more satisfying. But it still made me want to rewrite things.
So did the out-of-order flashbacks onto her childhood as a girl getting knocked down both literally and figuratively (“What are you doing? That’s for the boys.”), because the clenched-fist moment of the trailer was so exciting and I expected to see the same thing (but longer and more so) in the movie itself. It’s probably for the best that the film used that for the trailer, and let us-the-audience extrapolate it during the actual movie.
So I guess I won’t be rewriting the film after all. But the urge was there, for a bit.
Interestingly, neither movie actually mentions the main character’s title. After seeing a billion origin stories in the last three weeks or so, we really don’t need to get into how they get their names.
Both have important figures in their life gaslighting them, as well as a group of strong, supportive women. Both actors/characters have spent significant time in physical training and can fight very well without their powers. Both are aware of some of their powers, but become aware (and briefly startled) of much more during their film. Both are far more interested in ending wars than starting them—Wonder Woman’s most iconic weapon is not a sword but a shield. Both are stunningly beautiful. (It has been pointed out elsewhere that, now we seem to have got the hang of female-led superhero movies, can we have some women of colour? Gay women? Trans women? Fat women? Disabled women?)
Diana is ignorant about the real world, and Carol has amnesia. That could be interpreted as lessening their power (gently accustoming viewers to the idea of super-powered women), but it’s also a very handy narrative device for letting the hero and the viewer discover things at the same time, so I’m okay with it in their opening films.
Both women are seen as girls fighting against the limitations placed on them by others. Difficult, determined women. I think it’s significant those both flashbacks focus on the girls before they hit puberty. It’s an unfortunate fact that girls are encouraged to follow their dreams before puberty and then get psychologically beaten up during and after puberty. Teenage girls inspire two reactions: lust and hate. No one wants to hear or indulge the desires or opinions of teenage girls. Statistically, both girls and boys experience a sudden sharp dip in self-esteem around puberty. Boys get it back; girls never recover.
I find myself making them sound like clones of one another, but I swear they’re not. Yes, they have a LOT in common, from a desire to be a hero to a compassion for refugees. But in my opinion there’s a deep and archetypal power to each of them that is precisely what each film needs to give viewers that amazing feeling of empowerment and hope.
Gaslighting (for definition of ‘gaslighting’, see tvtropes here):
Both women are told over and over and over, “No. Don’t do that. You can’t do that. Stop.” There is one crucial difference: Wonder Woman is told these things by two good characters—her mother, and Steve Trevor. Captain Marvel is told these things by people who are trying to trick her.
It is clear in WONDER WOMAN that Diana’s mother is making bad choices where her daughter is concerned; lying to her to try to protect her, and keeping her from training as a strategy to keep her power under wraps. It’s understandable, a plausible weakness, and she gets over it (mostly) when she switches strategy to tell Aunt Antiope to “train her harder than anyone else”. She’s still moderately horrid when Diana wants to leave the island, but (again) it’s plausible in an overprotective mother (so, good writing—when two characters both have noble goals that happen to clash).
But, even on my first viewing, I was annoyed by Steve Trevor. Sure, Diana has no concept of the scope of World War 1 or how war works. But he’s seen the Amazons fight and win on the beach, and he knows some of their magic (eg the lasso of truth) before he and Diana get to London. He shouldn’t be as patronising as he is. Especially AFTER they’ve saved a small town thanks entirely to her. Before that he is annoying, after that he’s a jerk. This is narratively necessary, but it badly impairs the character, which in turn makes me think less of Diana for loving him so much. He’s a decent man, but not THAT great. (Yep, that’s right—sacrificial death ain’t enough to impress me if the guy isn’t as hot as Chris Pine AND smart enough to let Diana call ALL the shots a lot sooner.)
So that’s a significant flaw, in my opinion.
The gaslighting is 100% deliberate throughout Captain Marvel. Given her amnesia, it’s a sound strategy to keep her close and trusting (and makes narrative sense without making her stupid). It also works perfectly thematically and emotionally. When she throws off everything she’s been taught and comes into her full power, it is truly glorious.
Menfolk and Womenfolk and otherfolk:
It’s a little bit of a shame that we see so little of Diana interacting with other women. When Etta Candy is present, it is utterly glorious (and extra points for her using Diana’s sword to stop a baddie escaping from the alleyway, especially after neatly foreshadowing it with her saying that women fight with their principles, but she’s “not opposed to a little fisticuffs, should the occasion arise”). Oh, and Doctor Poison is rather excellent (although I find it a teensy bit patronising that Diana let her live, when she executed at least one male character). I love all the minor characters in this film (especially Charlie, whose character—singing, angry, and afraid—is devastating and beautiful), and World War 1 is a somewhat masculine affair, but still…
It’s a delight to have several important female characters in CAPTAIN MARVEL, from the Supreme Intelligence to Mar-Vell to the two Rambeaus. It’s not insignificant that (with the exception of the Supreme Intelligence, who isn’t technically female, and the minor villain whatserface played by Gemma Chan) none of the female characters take part in the planet-wide gaslighting of “Vers”.
It’s a simple fact that women are gaslit every day, usually unintentionally, and usually by men.
For example, my husband leaves dirty socks on the floor. To me, this is a feminist issue. When it comes to cleaning our house, the buck always stops with me. This is so, so obvious. I pointed out to him the other day that I find it sexist that he leaves his stinky socks for me to pick up. He said it’s not sexist, because he’s not leaving them for me to pick up—he’ll pick them up himself. Later. But I spend 20 of every 24 hours in this house, while he spends less than half of his waking hours here. He also has ADD, which means he notices much less about his environment already, and is far more likely to forget something anyway. So he’s not deliberately leaving his socks on the floor (and his breakfast bowl on the table, and his empty milk containers on the bench, and his cleaned-and-sorted-by-me washing on the bed, and his jackets on the couch, etc) because he is thinking, “Ha-HA! I shall trick my helpless woman into cleaning up after me” but because he’s not thinking at all. Because he has the privilege of not having to think about such things, because they magically get done when he’s not looking (about 80% of the time). After ten years of marriage, how could this blindingly obvious fact have not occurred to him? (Believe me, we have had many conversations about chores. Most of which he has forgotten. Most of which I remember vividly.)
So I’m left angry and sore (yes it literally hurts me to clean up) while he floats along in life thinking he’s the perfect husband, because he’s not thinking at all. (Disclaimer: obviously he’s a pretty good husband all things considered.)
All of which is to say that women are less likely to gaslight other women (although unfortunately it absolutely does happen, eg this article that I can’t bear to read), and CAPTAIN MARVEL reflects that. Without saying a word in the script, it conveys that she’s getting psychological strength from her female friends. And that is something that is deeply satisfying (and healing) for female viewers, and almost entirely absent from WONDER WOMAN.
WONDER WOMAN has Etta Candy (1000 points) and Charlie, who are perfect.
CAPTAIN MARVEL has Goose (1,000,000 points, sorry Etta) and young Nick Fury, who are also perfect. And so are the Rambeaus.
The YEAHHHHHH!!!!! moment:
Both films have a scene that makes every living human in the audience want to jump on their seat and cheer, then go and find a Nazi to punch in the face.
WONDER WOMAN: The moment she chucks off her boring London clothes and runs across no man’s land.
CAPTAIN MARVEL: The fight scene set to “Just a Girl” by No Doubt.
Both scenes are in their own way, perfect. WONDER WOMAN is tinged with sadness on a second viewing, because the town she saves is soon to be murdered. You definitely feel her pain and disillusionment as a result, which makes sense thematically.
CAPTAIN MARVEL: Something about that iconic song—so familiar to me as a 90s teen, although back then I didn’t know enough to feel that righteous anger myself—makes CAPTAIN MARVEL’s power explosion feel 100% REAL. Sure, it’s magic and fiction and there are aliens and blue blood and so on. But with that song right there, CAPTAIN MARVEL cuts into our Trump-poisoned reality with pinpoint accuracy. I never would have thought I’d see a more potent female empowerment scene than in WONDER WOMAN, but CAPTAIN MARVEL did it. For that reason, I will love CAPTAIN MARVEL forever. Plus she’s fighting the very people who gaslit her so bad for so long, which gives it extra zing.
(A zillion bonus points to WONDER WOMAN for giving us Themyscira. A bold, beautiful place that now exists forever in the collective imagination.)
It’s been established elsewhere that the World War 1 historical accuracy of WONDER WOMAN is top-notch. Kudos to every single person involved.
From the moment the trailer showed Captain Marvel crash-landing through the roof of a Blockbuster Video store, everyone in the world who is around my age (37, by the way—old enough to have been avidly following the MCU since it began, with our own money) emitted a “squee” of delight (followed by a gasp of horror that a film set in the 90s is now officially a period piece). It was beautifully done throughout (without, I think, banging on about it), and I enjoyed it very much. Also the de-aging on Nick Fury and Agent Coulson was fun and looked great.
Both movies feature betrayal by the big bad. Wonder Woman is betrayed by the man who funds their mission to the Front, and Captain Marvel is betrayed by her mentor (who was only her mentor in order to keep her close).
Neither of these land properly. In Wonder Woman, David Thewlis just doesn’t work as the big bad. Even the betrayal doesn’t feel quite right, because why did he bother funding their mission in the first place? I guess to keep tabs on Diana, but meh.
In Captain Marvel, even those who don’t know Yon-Rogg is evil from the comics know he’s evil as soon as he and Captain Marvel (“Vers” at the time) do a training fight in the opening scene. It is a law universally acknowledged that a mentor and mentee fighting in Act 1 must fight as enemies in Act 3.
Wonder Woman also has the betrayal of her Mum never telling her that SHE is the God-killer, not the sword. And Captain Marvel has the larger betrayal of her entire (she thinks) home world being the villains. (Sidebar: I felt that the switch from “Skrulls are evil” to “Kree are evil and skrulls are good” happens a little too quickly, without sufficient proof. And now I need to go back and wince every time a skrull is punched/killed in Act 1…)
Yes, Yon-Rogg fundamentally worked, especially when he tried—and failed so badly—to gaslight her one last time. (Note to self: When theme and action fit together perfectly, it’s a beautiful thing.) Some of the second-tier villains were underdeveloped. Hopefully there’s a longer cut of the movie somewhere.
I’m glad the Captain Marvel movie didn’t waste the opportunity to have shape-shifting enemies, even if it was only in Act 1. Hurrah for punching sweet old ladies!
Wonder Woman’s Dr Poison would have been a better big bad, I think. She was more interesting than General Ludendorff and scarier than Sir Patrick (if she ignored the general and decided to do her own thing). The idea of Ares as a whisperer/evil muse rather than the controlling force behind World War 1 was sort of cool, but then undercut by the fact that people DID immediately lay down their arms once Ares was killed.
The Third Act:
Wonder Woman wanted to be epic, but we’ve seen so many epic fights (and we were so unimpressed by Sir Patrick) that it was the weakest part of the film.
Saving Captain Marvel’s greatest scene for the third act REALLY worked. The only flaw is the second-tier villains not feeling like real three-dimensional people.
It was really excellent that Captain Marvel didn’t have any romantic interest in anyone. Her (platonic) chemistry with other actors was an absolute delight, and it’s just SO nice to not have a romance subplot just because it’s a female main character. Sure, I like Steve Trevor (with the exceptions outlined above), but I think Captain Marvel gets extra points on this one.
Now I want to see both films again.
My son TJ is four (and three-quarters) and has a lovely relationship with our kitten, Zipper. They don’t always understand one another, or play the same way, but they love each other. Here’s a video:
An escape room is a team game that involves exploring a room and solving the puzzles you find there in order to get out.
In practise, that means being put into a room with a team and figuring out how to open and/or unlock various things. In Canberra, it is illegal to actually lock the room so although there is usually a large obvious padlock on the exit door, it is purely decorative (eg put on a second handle while the first handle actually opens the door). You can leave at any time (and come back in, eg after going to the bathroom or getting some air).
Most escape rooms take place in a single physical room, although some start in one room and take you through others as you progress through the various puzzles. Mine are one-room games that can be restricted to a tabletop if necessary, and they are macguffin-based ie you ‘escape’ by finding a specific magical item in one of the boxes, rather than by ‘opening’ a door.
Most escape rooms start you off in very dim light, so one of your first challenges is finding more sources of light. The darkness and lack of torches enhances the stress and forces you to work with your team-mates. Stress, frustration, and cooperation are huge elements in a well-designed escape room.
Another vital element is skill-sharing. A good escape room has a wide range of puzzle types, so different team members’ strengths can come to the fore eg. A puzzle box, a simple maths problem, a clue hidden in an unexpected location. I am terrible at puzzle boxes and not super mobile (so I won’t be crawling under tables if I can help it), but I can do maths.
Puzzle rooms tend to steer away from any maths harder than primary school level, because a lot of people hate maths. I have found that having a simple maths problem towards the end of the game is hilarious as people panic and can’t count good no more.
Each escape room has a fictional scenario to fire the imagination, and a timer counting down (usually the time limit is 1 hour, or 1.5-3 hours for much more complicated rooms).
During the last week both my parents and my siblings attempted my magical steampunk game, MADAM ALCHEMIST, and each session was filmed. If you’d like a better idea of how escape rooms work, I recommend watching the first and second videos. If you just like watching people alternatively swear and cheer, the third video is pretty much just that.
The first video includes an opening spiel by yours truly, and a few minutes of play by my parents.
The second shows a cut-down version of my brother and sister playing the room from beginning to end (complete with my patented sarcastic subtitles). It contains very mild spoilers ie you can still enjoy the game fully after watching (I edited it very carefully), but if you’re an experienced player I recommend playing the room before watching it. Of course, if you don’t live in Canberra/NSW then you might as well watch it.
There is some mild swearing.
The third is a super-short montage of my brother and sister’s play-through (all of which is also part of video #2). There’s almost no context, just the usual escape room experience of intermingled frustration, bickering, cooperation, and joy.
All clear? Good.
You can book through the store link above, or email me at MagicInTheMailStories@gmail.com to arrange a time and place of your choosing.
The typical escape room company is located in a hard-to-find corner—somewhere with small windows, ill-suited to shopfronts or homes. There are usually stairs, and almost always darkness.
MADAM ALCHEMIST, my portable magical steampunk escape room, is designed to be suitable for most ages and abilities. It is G-rated and has no physical challenges.
This blog post is a fluid document that will evolve as I find better ways to serve a diverse group of customers. If your own physical or mental challenges are ill-suited to the game let me know (privately, if you like, at MagicInTheMailStories@gmail.com) and I’ll see if I can figure out a way to make the room accessible to you.
MADAM ALCHEMIST isn’t scary, unless a player is particularly disturbed by darkness or stress or vaguely-defined monsters.
This is a photo of a large poster representing a window outside as soulless monsters attack.
I can leave out the poster and/or keep lights on if younger/more imaginative/anxious people are playing the room.
Having said that, escape rooms take around an hour of focused attention and part of the experience is frustration (not to mention problem solving). Most kids under ten will struggle with focus, and find most of the puzzles too difficult.
Kids 10-14 who are able to deal with frustration will be useful team members, but should have adults with them (at least 1:1).
Kids 14+ are often as good or better than adults, but could have a bad experience if they are already low in confidence, especially academically. (There are some simple maths problems that any 14 year old could solve but if they panic and recoil at the sight of numbers then this will just confirm their bias.)
People aged 16 and above will, in my opinion, be just fine, and can act as the adult for kids aged 10-14 (if they’re willing).
My own children are 4 and 7, and helped play-test the game (with lights on, and assisted by their dad). Although they enjoyed the edible clues, the frustration of the game made them behave badly (snatching etc) and they were not rational in their problem-solving attempts (eg they believed they could guess the padlock combinations). But a well-behaved younger child can certainly tag along if their guardians can’t arrange babysitting (and are confident their kids won’t break anything).
I’m still working on making the game accessible to those with sight/hearing limitations.
Those who are slightly sight-impaired or dyslexic can have a typed version of written clues (rather than the twisty scrawl of the mad alchemist).
The lights can be left on or off, the props can be laid out on a single large table to make searching simpler, and the number of torches can be increased or decreased. I have a friend who’ll be play-testing the game in March and will help me identify aspects of the game that need adjustment. Not all the clues are visual, so if the team has a range of abilities cooperation is always necessary and will help here.
No clues require good hearing (although communication within the team is essential). I can improve access for hearing-impaired players by simply turning off the sound effects. My father has significant hearing issues that didn’t impair his enjoyment at all since he played with my mother, who is an expert at talking with him.
Anyone who has trouble moving around/standing/crouching can play MADAM ALCHEMIST, depending on the venue.
My personal mobility isn’t great, so I’m pretty good at arranging things for chronic pain conditions. The simplest step is to have all the props and clues placed on a single table, so players can simply sit around and pass objects to one another. Someone without the use of their arms will need an assistant.
The gazebo in my yard in Macgregor is accessible by wheelchair. There is some lumpy fake grass but no steps (other than a one-inch foam ‘carpet’ within the gazebo). I usually leave the gate open but sometimes the wind blows it shut (in which case it needs someone to reach up quite high to unlatch it).
Capital Pancakes has a very long flight of stairs and no lift.
Other venues (such as the home of the host) will vary dramatically.
My backyard is not an option, as the cat is difficult to contain and is sure to snuggle up to whoever is most allergic. But of course there are plenty of other venues.
Food/scent allergies or intolerance:
There are 3-4 edible/drinkable clues in the game. None contain nuts of any kind.
The ingredient list varies by availability and location, so if a player has a serious allergy other than nuts, please let me know so that I can ensure they don’t come into contact with anything that could harm them.
If players have a range of food intolerances/allergies, I can cater to you specifically or adjust the edible clues into written clues as needed.
People with epilepsy/migraines:
The possibility of flashing lights can be eliminated by keeping ‘normal’ lights on rather than depending on torches.
This weekend is CanCon, and I have a stall there, with the tabletop version of my escape room (now called “Madam Alchemist” since it takes place in a mad scientist’s secret laboratory). I ran five play-tests during the day yesterday, and all of them went off without a hitch.
I also had people approaching me asking about party and conference packages. I seem to have discovered a market. *blink blink*
I’m already developing a second room, scifi/horror/comedy called “The Amazing Shrinking House” (adjective may vary) so I can run two different games at the same time… and sell a “Party Package” that lets party guests swap rooms so they can do two in one night.
Sometimes I wish I could buy my own products!
This is the CanCon setup; the stall in its entirety. Also corset and tutu 🙂
It was nice to see fairly equal proportions of men and women, and this notice in the ladies’ bathroom:
Plus plenty of teens, some (usually slightly bored) kids, a range of age and fitness levels, and several gay couples and singles. CanCon is a happy place.
I’ve playtested the escape room three times so far, spotting serious mistakes on my part every time and fixing them for the next time.
Today is the beginning of the Invasion Day long weekend, so I’ll be at CanCon—Canberra’s annual board gaming conference.
The perfect place to test it way, way more!
This weekend I’ll be running free tabletop versions of the game… and signing people up to play it for real.
Here are some gorgeous pics, all taken by Louisette!
Zipper cheats her way out.
Naturally, Louisette focused on the lollies (literally).
Everything in the above picture was laying around the house, waiting for this moment.
Tentative price list:
$25 per person, with the following minimums:
$100 minimum if it’s in my back yard (running approximately 8-9:30PM including introductions).
(NB This will be moved inside if the weather is too hot/cold/rainy, which is rather cramped by climate controlled. It should be noted that my cat will almost certainly come and say hello, and that I supply bug repellant.)
$200 minimum elsewhere in Canberra (or by appointment when I’m at a nearby conference/fair/festival).
(I require a room that can be darkened, free of trip hazards, with a table and chairs—in a house that is fairly accessible by moving trolley.)
I’ll almost certainly increase the price when I’m more confident.
How to book/ask questions:
At the moment, email email@example.com and/or firstname.lastname@example.org to talk dates and times. Most Saturdays are good for me coming to you, and 8pm is usually good at my place any night except Wednesdays (but definitely including Saturdays).
How long does it take:
Theoretically 1 hour, but usually closer to 2. Allow 2.5 hours if you can, and advise me if anyone in your team has specific time restrictions.
It’s great for wheelchair users (because you can play sitting at a table—although your team members will need to cooperate to pass things close enough for you to examine).
I think most physical or mental restrictions can be balanced by having a range of ability in the group (in much the same way that there’s bound to be ONE person who can add a string of numbers without screwing them up… right?)
There are no physical challenges.
Is it scary?
You will be operating under a threat of (fictional…) monsters, competing against a clock, in near darkness. So the level of scariness depends on your imagination. But it’s definitely rated G, and safe for kids of virtually any age BUT escape rooms are intrinsically frustrating and some items are fragile or sharp. Use your discretion. Kids 10+ should be genuinely useful in places; kids 4+ should be okay IF they’re very well behaved and calm.
I have designed a portable escape room (with a tabletop version that I shall be running at CanCon this weekend). There will be more info soon, but here are some pics in the meantime!
It’s set in the same steampunk fantasy world as all my steampunk, but takes place at the same time (with none of the same characters) as “Choices: And The Sun Went Out”.
In case you can’t tell, I’m very excited. I don’t expect this to be a big moneymaker (apart from anything else, it requires a staff member—most likely me—to be present, which means I need to leave the house, ugh!) but it’s awfully fun right now.
I’ve run one test so far (with Chris, Lousiette, and TJ—yep, it’s child friendly), and have more already lined up ready to go.
NB: The Mary Sue pop culture site wrote a far better article on Christmas stress. Go read it here.
I live in fear of Christmas from about October onwards. (I also start buying presents for my kids at that stage, which I like doing—so there’s that.)
It’s particularly tricky for those who are at the “moved out of home but don’t have a family of their own” life stage (which can be incredibly lonely) or those who have recently lost a close family member to death or divorce.
And of course for those who suffer from depression, social anxiety, or other chronic illnesses. The pressure to be happy and joyful can be horrifying, and it climaxes on Christmas Day. It feels like the whole word is saying, “You must be happy and healthy at this time and place!”
There are four major sources of stress around the holiday season:
There are two ways to make finances better at Christmas. Either you spread things out over the whole year (buy one present a month, for example; buy travel tickets in February and then pay off a little each month) or you reduce the cost of Christmas.
Sometimes, the only option is to be honest: If you can’t afford travel, tell people that you can’t. If you really want to travel, it may be possible to receive travel costs as a gift—send an open group email to the whole family and say, “Instead of gifts, can everyone put in $20 so I can come to the beach without breaking the bank?”
Gift-wise, especially with kids, remember that YOU are setting the standard of what is normal. If the kids get a single gift from you each year, then that’s what they’ll accept as normal (with the occasional comment of, “All my friends get ten presents for Christmas” which you’ll have to resist along with every other “All my friends…” comment that the kids send your way the rest of the year).
EXPECTATIONS are crucial, and honesty, though awkward (and I guarantee some people will just think you’re cheap—screw ’em) can save a lot of pain.
I knew someone who would pick a fight every December and then not show up at Christmas. That’s… certainly a strategy. I would really rather this person just talked to us.
I know someone else who gave spectacularly expensive-looking but wildly thoughtless gifts. Every time they saw something on a massive sale they bought several. And that’s what everyone got for Christmas. They once got really weird about having gifts with half our family at one event and half somewhere else—because of course they’d bought the same thing for everything. Again, that’s a. . . strategy. That one could have worked great if there was any correlation between the gifts and the recipients. Like, if someone hates reading, don’t give them a book? Save it for someone else.
Family is complicated. Some people love getting the full set together in one room (I’m one of them). Other people would rather not see a single member of their family ever again.
If your family is truly abusive, you don’t owe them anything. Get out fully if that’s truly what’s best for you.
If your family is annoying, or just one or two are awful but the rest are great, see if you can work out a way to take the bad with the good (or, if you’re especially cunning, find a path where you get more good and less bad).
If your family is mostly good, be honest about your abilities to give/host/travel/etc. Traditions don’t have value if they’re hurting you. For me, it’s often easier to host than go somewhere else.
It’s really, really hard. Things will also go wrong. Travelling at Christmas is harder than at any other time because (a) So many people are doing it, and (b) You gotta pack gifts (both giving and receiving).
If you know you’re not physically, mentally, or emotionally up to it. . . you have a choice.
If you can handle travel, work out what you need to make it suck less. For me, an ample supply of chocolate, water, and snacks makes a huge difference. Air conditioning is crucial, and so is ‘down time’.
Take your painkiller of choice, and if you’re inclined to get travel sickness of any kind then take supplies for that too.
Don’t be an idiot and promise a 3-part Christmas blog.
Manage expectations, both those others put on you and the ones you put on yourself.
Learn to say “No” and/or “Not this year”.
Basically, expectations (including traditions) can be helpful (“I know I’m meant to bring a plate every year”) or harmful (“I know I’m meant to bring a whole roast turkey even though I’m driving interstate to get there in time aieeeee”). In the end, although manners are important, you are the boss of you. Take charge, and make Christmas fun for you—whether that means staying home and watching “Die Hard” with no pants on, or travelling in convoy with your 32 cousins to great-grandma’s retirement home and eating nothing but funyuns for two days.
Kids home from school
That’s a whole ‘nother story. I haven’t worked out a good strategy for being “on” for ten hours a day for 6 weeks, so feel free to share your strategies in the comments.
The moral of today’s blog: Kids, animals, travel emergencies, and health are unpredictable. Plan for that.
But most of all, plan for who you are and what you can realistically do.
Last Christmas was tricky. Louisette (then aged nearly-6) well and truly understood Christmas, and she knew exactly what she wanted. . . and was loudly disappointed when a gift didn’t live up to her expectations.
She’s a sweet girl really, and we’ve had a lot of conversations since then about how to react when you don’t like a present, including the fact that she can secretly come to me if she truly doesn’t like something and I’ll buy it off her.
This year both kids have been pure adorable. So that’s nice! TJ has been opening incredibly random items and saying things like, “This is what I always wanted!” which is hilarious.
(Those are not oars, by the way. They’re novelty pool noodles; one with a unicorn head and tail and the other with a shark head and tail.)
There is a fundamental problem that permeates virtually every aspect of parenthood. Every parent wants to make their kid’s life better than what they experienced. Did they always desperately want that one special toy? Did they wish with all their heart that they didn’t have to share a room with their siblings?
So we give our kids what we never had… and they take that as normal, because for them it is. Yay. And then they want a BIGGER room, and a more expensive toy… and the parents are left wondering how their kids became so spoiled and ungrateful.
My only advice is to say ‘no’ often, and stick to it. But choose your moment to say “no”, and choose your moment to say “yes”, too. And teach your kids that life is never perfect, but if they work hard and make sacrifices, they can probably get a bigger room (or whatever) when they’re an adult. They still won’t be able to get everything they want, but they can choose what to give up and what really matters.
I looove buying gifts for my kids. But I do get stressed when there are toys all over the floor and/or no room to move because there’s just so much STUFF in my house.
Some parents incorporate charitable giving in their family Christmas traditions (I really like TEAR Australia’s Really Useful Gift Shop for that—keeping in mind that it’s usually more efficient for recipients if you simply give a donation and let the charity sort out where it’s most useful at the time).
There is a famous ‘list’ going around (if you know the original source/s, let me know):
Something you want
Something you need
Something to wear
Something to read
And there are a couple of variations: Something to do and something to love.
I think most kids would be annoyed at getting something they need and/or something to wear. How would you feel to get a new school uniform under the tree? So I personally would only use those if I wanted a few extra things to wrap (and I thought I could get away with it… it very much depends on the kid and the age).
Having said that, TJ is getting an insulated lunch box for Christmas (he’s going into pre-school so he’ll be taking in his own lunch for the first time… and the lunch box has dinosaurs on) and Louisette received drink bottles (Doc Macstuffins ones).
So there’s a different between getting something plain and something that feels special, even when it’s something the kid legitimately needs. But I’d still advise caution.
And I definitely think every xmas gift list should include something to DO. A puzzle, construction set, activity book, etc etc.
In all honesty, one of the reasons I like getting the kids gifts is so that they bother me less when I’m trying to work. Is. . . is that the real meaning of Christmas?
I usually buy more than 4 presents, but then “sell” several to relatives who want to give the kids gifts and ask me what to get them. (FYI That kind of relative is the BEST.) But four gifts is usually plenty.
My mum tends to buy a LOT of gifts (it’s her love language, and definitely expressed in quantity), and one will be the ‘main’ present—considerably more expensive than the rest. That’s a good system in its own right, although not well suited to those who get stressed by large amounts of cheap plastic nonsense in their house.
Sidebar: Christmas is a great time to have family members with inattentive ADD (aka Chris and Louisette). This year Louisette was looking through photos on my phone when she came across a gift I bought for her. It’s literally sitting on our couch, out of the packaging—I took the photo for Chris since I thought he should know what I was spending all our money ON before I wrapped it. It’s a Doc Macstuffins pet carrier including a pet, and one of Louisette’s biggest gifts (she’s obsessed with Doc Macstuffins at present).
“Oh, Mum!” she says. “That is so cute. It would be a really great gift for me for Christmas.”
Me: *internally swearing* Hmm? Oh yes, it’s very cute.
Aand… she accepted that, and has forgotten all about it.
And of course, as far as adult presents go… it’s all about books for me. I buy lots for others, carefully chosen (I get all bewildered with friends who don’t love fantasy novels, but I do like one or two non-fantasy books a year so that’s handy). It’s tradition in my family to read a book before giving it to someone, and then give a kind of review as part of the gift. “This is so deliciously eccentric; you’ll love it” “Watch out! It’s a 4-book series and the cliffhanger at the end of Book 3 will drive you nuts” etc. Great tradition.
I get quite stressed nowadays when I receive physical books, because I vastly prefer reading on my kindle (it’s easier on my wrists and neck). So that’s awkward. But they’re still books, and books are always good.
Between Chris and I, Christmas is an excuse to buy something way more expensive than we’d normally buy for ourselves. Chris is getting ug boots (he likes ‘proper’ ones, and wears them constantly around the house), and I’ve already ordered and received a made-to-order corset from Gallery Serpentine (they make high-quality corsets and are the go-to shop for Canberrans despite the fact they’re based in Sydney).
For many years, when I was living on very little (there were times when I didn’t have enough to eat three meals a day), Christmas was all about tricking people into buying necessities for me, like clothes or a secondhand microwave. My finances revolved around Christmas, and I’d carefully think about what I needed most, that could appear to be a fun and frivolous gift. There are definitely others out there going through the same thing. If you know your friends are super pov, a gift of shoes can make a big difference (obviously you have to figure out where they’d like to buy shoes from, and give them a voucher). Or a gift basket of food (either sensible or silly; both are expensive). Or something they can regift to someone else, because of course gift-giving is very hard when you’re too poor to afford anything much.
Christmas, commercialism, and the sheer push-and-pull of STUFF are all inextricably bound together. It’s worth thinking about what you really want, and what you really want to give.
So Christmas is about three things for me. (Cunning readers may guess what they are based on the title.)
This is the beginning of a three-part blog series on Christmas (aka holiday therapy for yours truly).
Fairly obviously for a Christian, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus aka the God I follow. Yes, I’m aware that the date is wrong and most of the traditions are stolen/borrowed from Pagan traditions, etc etc.
It is extraordinary that my God chose to set up a universe in which he himself would be required to be tortured and killed and condemned in order to show us in the clearest possible terms that being “saved” is a gift that he desperately wants to give us. Easter is at the heart of every Christian. It’s why we call it “Good” Friday when it’s marking the darkest day in the history of the universe.
In some ways, Christmas is even more shocking. The God of all creation had his nappy changed, was breast fed, struggled with toilet training, and probably grew up wondering in his heart of hearts why he always found the smell of manure strangely comforting.
For those just tuning in, I have two kids of my own. Currently Lousiette is 6-nearly-7 and TJ is 4 and a half. Exhibit A:
It is incredible to think about the whole “having a kid” thing. These two started off as nothing more than a goofy hypothetical notion, then Chris and I MADE them… but they were only about this big:
And now they walk and talk and have opinions and dreams and say all kinds of weird and wonderful things both good and bad. In the blink of an eye they’ll be as old as I am now—then older—perhaps with kids of their own, and jobs, and much stronger opinions that I may find utterly horrifying.
How can a tiny dot grow into a whole person?
It’s part of the glorious nonsense of being alive.
Even more bonkers is the idea that God could squash himself down to fit into that tiny dot.
And even more bonkers is… why?
Jesus spent thirty-three years on Earth, as a man. He was sweaty, and he was sometimes attracted to people he didn’t want to be attracted to, and he ate freshly-baked bread, and he sometimes disagreed with his mum and brothers, and he lived through the death of his mortal dad. Why didn’t he just skip the whole ‘being human’ thing, get crucified, and save the world over a single rather intense long weekend?
It wrecks my mind that he chose to become one of us. He really understands, from our side, what it’s like to be mortal: messy, scary, and smelly.
I love that.
I even made a little YouTube video trying to point out just how bizarre it is that God really did become a slob like one of us.
It’s a mishmash of different messages really. Is it just an excuse to show off old pics of my kids? Is it a brilliant mix of the carnal and the divine? Is it just too much fun to see babies looking wise/annoyed/gassy? You can make up your own mind. There are a couple of other baby pics in there too so go ahead and play “spot the cousin” if you like.)
So. When Jesus Christ, creator and saviour, was born, he probably looked not that much different from my own brown-eyed, dark-haired TJ (although being from the Middle East, Jesus would have had darker skin):
If you want to know what God looks like, that’s pretty similar to one part of it.
I acquired this giant tiger, which Tim shall receive for Christmas.
When I chucked it on the couch, Zipper PANICKED and FLED FOR HER LIFE.
So I sat down next to the tiger and gently encouraged Zipper to overcome her deep and genuine terror. While I took photos.
Then I put it on the floor for her to stalk, as her courage slowly grew.
It was terrifying for the poor innocent kitten. She crept closer bit by bit.
At last she attacked!
After a lightning strike, she decided to declare the tiger beaten and retreat.
And so our house returned once again to peace.
Astute viewers may have observed a certain lack of blog posts lately… a dearth of content that started just before November and is now ending just after November.
Not a coincidence.
November (and sometimes July) is National Novel Writing Month, when thousands of writers around the world attempt to write the first 50,000 words of their novel in a month. It’s a glorious, unhealthy, stressful ride.
This year I wrote a game. It’s a magical murder mystery named “Death at the Rectory”. It’ll most likely be available via Choice of Games’s “Hosted Games” label sometime in 2019.
It’s set at a very real, very specific location: the 140 year-old rectory of St John’s Anglican Church in Gundagai. It’s no coincidence that my mother is currently the priest there (until the end of this year). Every time I go there I think how amazing it would be to have a writing retreat there (bags not organise such a thing, though) because of the history of the house and the ridiculously high number of external doors (8, almost all in bedrooms). And incredible views from a deck that wraps around three sides of the house.
The idea of doing a fictional writing retreat there percolated in my brain for a while, and now it’s a fully-written interactive fiction story. With murder. And magic.
(This is the church, which is even older than the rectory—and right next door, too.)
By “fully” written I mean there are over 50,000 words, the quality of which I cannot vouch for.
Zipper is doing just fine, for those who come here exclusively for the cat pics.
Last weekend was the weekend of the annual Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk & Victoriana Fair. It’s always an absolute blast. The standard of garb at Goulburn is always amazing: corsets, top hats, pocket watches, waistcoats, bustles, crinolines, and epic boots galore!
I thought I’d do a super quick blog on some of the side effects of steampunk: some of the grand traditions that are steampunk due to pure coolness factor rather than any rational connections.
Goths of course.
Okay, that connection is obvious. Lace parasols and corsets for both men and women? Yes please! One of the many definitions of steampunk is that it’s what happened when goths discovered brown.
(I’m sorry I didn’t turn that pic around the right way. I’m VERY tired. Not only was the Goulburn Steampunk Fair two days long this year—yay!—but I also just completed a 3-day speed game-writing jam. Over the same weekend!)
I believe I mentioned dogs. There’s a dog in my Iron Lights trailer (from the Goulburn Fair last year, in fact*) and there were loads of dogs (many in costume) this year too.
Kilts and military attire are both well represented at such events (this year there were real cannons firing across the water, too!)
So if you like a man in uniform and/or admiring a man’s legs (or the unpredictable thrills of seeing men in kilts on a very windy day) then you should hang out with steampunks.
Especially if you like them sideways.
Ditto pirates and octopuses.
And reimagined superheroes/princesses. I saw a lot of amazing steampunk Iron Men a few years ago. Lately lots of steampunk Wonder Women, and some really excellent steampunk Belles (especially at Supanova events).
My kids dressed as a unicorn rainbow princess (who then had her face painted as a kitten) and Batman (painted as a scary monster). As you can perhaps tell, my children are at the age when they’re very strong on external expressions of gender identity.
Steampunks like cats too. Because steampunks are cool. So here’s a pic of Zipper I took today. May it please you.
I just found out that various people are working on making ChoiceScript easier to learn and use.
I… probably won’t use these tools because I’ve grown comfortable with using CS directly and don’t want to mess with that (yes, I am old and crotchety. Shut up).
Here‘s the link to much usefulness!
Here’s Zipper, getting better at venturing outside (but still terrified by birds).
My fellow Odyssey Books author, Carmel Bendon, reviewed IRON LIGHTS for me on Goodreads. Here’s what she said:
Iron Lights is the third book in Felicity Banks’ The Antipodean Queen trilogy and the next in the adventures of the series’ heroine, Emmeline Muchamore. Iron Lights, however, stands alone as a cohesive read and there is sufficient reference to key elements of the earlier works – mainly in terms of characters common to all three books – to orientate readers who have not read the first two books.
Emmeline is a very appealing lead character, full of energy, optimism and conviction, and totally human in her devotion to her sweetheart, Matilda Newry, and an array of disparate and revolutionary friends, and all this powered by her amazing steam-fired heart of brass. When Emmeline is called into action by the quicksilver-generated vision of the impending fiery and brutal destruction of Melbourne and its inhabitants by an invading [mechanised] army, she responds with courage and determination, gathering her own extraordinary army of humans and machines.
Banks’ imagination has filled the story with mechanical wonders – activated metals with magical qualities and inventions that extend far beyond the usual machines to include such marvels as (deadly) Australian spiders with activated metal inserts that enable them to carry out their mistress’s bidding.
Banks’ evocation, and then subversion and manipulation, of small details of Australian colonial history is clever and got me checking (historical) names and details on more than one occasion. The story’s action is fast-paced & drives the plot forward with a precision akin to the machinery it embraces. At times the pace was almost too fast and I found it hard to keep up with Emmeline’s quickly-made plans and their even quicker implementation that saw her dashing across (and above) grand exhibitions and battlefields, and building and overseeing an extraordinary laboratory in an even more remarkable fortress but, in some ways, the rush added to the fun. In all, Iron Lights is well-written, imaginative, energetic, and a very enjoyable read.