Friday, June 30, 2023

Karen S. Wiesner {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Mrs. Quent Trilogy by Galen Beckett

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Mrs. Quent Trilogy by Galen Beckett

by Karen S. Wiesner

Galen Beckett is the alter ego of fantasy author Mark Anthony, who's best known for his Dungeons & Dragons offerings in some of that series' most iconic settings. His original novel fantasy series, The Last Rune, proved his interest in witches in unexpected places with heroine Dr. Grace Beckett, who traveled from a modern setting into the alternative reality of Eldh and learned she was capable of manipulating the shape of natural energy called the Weirding. Similarly, the heroine in The Mrs. Quent Trilogy, Ivoleyn "Ivy" Lockwell, possesses a power that's forbidden in the time and place this sequence is set in. Women aren't allowed to do magic, but Ivy's been drawn to it since she was a child. As the unmarried, eldest daughter of a poverty-stricken family after her magician father inexplicably went mad, she's studied magical history for as long as she can remember, in part hoping to find a way to help her father, who lives his life in a kind of fugue that Ivy alone seems to be able to penetrate. Ivy's power is taught to her directly by the trees in the primal, partially sentient groves of the Wyrdwood (as in "weird"; the Old English term "wyrd" loosely translating as "destiny"; hence Ivy's ability is to shape fate).

The Mrs. Quent Trilogy could be categorized in many ways: A Victorian epic with fantastical elements, romantic historical gothic mystery, even "retro-modernist fantasy" fits. The author began the project by binge reading 19th Century novels, and that influence is very prominent here in each of the installments. In fact, it's what drew me to the first book, The Magicians and Mrs. Quent. As a teenager, I couldn't get enough of gothic romances with the dark heroes who could easily have been villains. In my late 20s, I fell in love with Victorian era novels that displayed an almost over the top picture of a society trying to balance polite formalities and courtesies against darker under dealings and even some political intrigue. I loved these stories with piquant humor, fashionably bedecked men and women that placed such a high import on money and social class, and elaborate dating dos and don'ts that rarely worked when combined with passionate, romantic temperaments. The settings were always so enchanting as well: From stylish streets in the city to windswept, rugged moorlands where sprawling family estates were many times dark and terrifying and populated with mysterious characters that made you wonder who was the hero, who was the villain.

The Mrs. Quent Trilogy encompasses all that I've come to adore about these genres and stylized novels. With magic and ancient forces thrown in aplenty, I knew within moments of reading the very familiar first sentence ("It was generally held knowledge among the people who lived on Whitward Street that the eldest of the three Miss Lockwells had a peculiar habit of reading while walking.") that I would be captivated by this series. Beckett's motivation for the original story that carried into the two sequels was: "What if there was a fantastical cause underlying the social constraints and limited choices confronting a heroine in a novel by Jane Austin or Charlotte Brontë?" That is, in essence, the framework of this series.

Setting is one of the most fascinating aspects of The Mrs. Quent Trilogy. Long ago, Altania had been covered by the Wyrdwood, an ancient forest, and its rule was total until men in ships landed on the shore, intent on making room for settlements. The Wyrdwood fought back after witches awakened the power of the wood, compelling it to rise up. The forest's fury was only subdued by the first great magician of old. In the "modern times" the series is set, only a few ragged patches of the Wyrdwood remain.

On the island nation of Altania, reality is subtly different in part because of outlaw magicians dabbling with uncertain forces they seek to control. Ancient forces have begun to insinuate into the government, changing the world as arcane powers take hold. Days and nights are far from consistent. Each family consults an almanac that allows them to prepare for the unpredictable long or short umbrals, but, as forces prevail, the almanacs' forecasts begin to fail. I absolutely loved this detail that heightened the shift from lumenal to lumenal, umbral to umbral.

Befitting a saga of this type, three sisters--one romantic, one prophetic, and one studious--are coming of age. With the family fortune's dwindling and their mother without a head for budgeting and finances, Ivy must give up any romantic notions about marrying well, if at all, even after she finds herself charmed by a perfectly jaded rapscallion of a gentleman, Mr. Rafferdy, a very resistant descendent of one of the seven Old Houses from which all magicians originated from. Filled with the bitter disappointment at having her hopes for a match that could have been both beneficial to her family's financial well-being along with her own silent wish for true love dashed, Ivy is compelled to become a governess for the reclusive Mr. Quent and his charges at the country Heathcrest, which is directly in the heart of the Wyrdwood. Here, Ivy learns of her own magical power as well as discovering more about her family; much more about her father's mysterious, magic-related malady; and diabolical plots taking place in Altania's government involving an underground web of robbers, revolutionaries, illusionists, and spies.

The House on Durrow Street, Book 2, continues with Ivy entering high society based on her and her new husband's decision to act courageously to save Altania from those scheming to subvert it. Temptations and secrets infused with high magick amongst genteel society created a whirlwind of adventure and suspense that carried into the concluding volume, The Master of Heathcrest Hall, Book 3. To save her father, her family, and the world she loves from certain eternal darkness, Ivy allies with those that could be dangerous to mingle with and even speak of in whispers as the unrest claiming Altania's every corner spreads.

Each of the characters that make up this lush landscape is finely depicted and spellbinding, drawing intrigue and sympathy. Their courage and spirit were compelling. Even when I questioned the intentions of some of them, I couldn't help understanding the depth of their emotions and conflicts. I even loved how the author made me root for the romantic attachments which seemed utterly impossible at so many turns.

One aspect of fantasy novels that tends to be what I consider its greatest downfall and the thing that usually keeps me from reading more of them is the sluggish pace that strikes me as being at odds when juggled with the extreme bouts of action--as in, there is almost no middle ground between these two states of being. I will note that I'm not a huge fan of action-packed sagas that lack "downtimes", since that makes them both unrealistic and exhausting to me. As a general rule, most of the fantasy novels I've read are authored by writers with undeniable skill. Mark Anthony is one such author. His writing style is nearly flawless. In fact, it's part of the reason why, after only having gotten a few chapters into The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, I bought the next two books in the series as well as all the books in his The Last Rune Series. I read The Mrs. Quent Trilogy compulsively over the course of only a week or two, finishing them very quickly despite that each one is massive (the hardcovers I purchased were all in great excess of 500 pages). I was endeared to The Mrs. Quent Trilogy despite that it was a leisurely, sprawling story that took its time building momentum and suspense from one book to the next. Every page of the three books held my unwavering engrossment. It struck just the right balance with riveting characters, plot, and tension despite being such enormous volumes which might have otherwise been intimidating. I believe a lot of readers will love all of Mark Anthony's literary offerings and should try them. It was, however, his alter ego Galen Beckett's writings that ultimately captured my attention. This particular series makes me eagerly look forward to the prospect of future similar gifts from this alternate identity.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her website here:


Find out more about her books and see her art here:

Visit her publisher here:

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Based on a True Story

Historical fiction typically places invented characters and plotlines against the backdrop of real events, sometimes including encounters with famous people of the past. But historical novels of another type retell actual episodes from the past and differ from straight history or biography by introducing made-up incidents and characters without violating the recorded facts as generally accepted. Then there's the oxymoronic "nonfiction novel," exemplified by works such as Truman Capote's IN COLD BLOOD and Alex Haley's ROOTS, purporting to report history as it happened but in novelistic style, also with the insertion of invented walk-on characters, minor incidents, and dialogue:

Non-Fiction Novel

Wikipedia remarks that the definition of the form can be "flexible." Judging from the range of their examples, the word I'd use is "fuzzy." Some of the books they mention strike me as simply standard-model historical fiction. So the difference between that genre and the so-called nonfiction novel seems to be one of degree.

Sharyn McCrumb has written several novels based on murder cases in American history, notably THE BALLAD OF FRANKIE SILVER, THE BALLAD OF TOM DOOLEY, and THE UNQUIET GRAVE. She includes afterwords supplying the real-life background of the stories. In the author's afterword to THE BALLAD OF TOM DOOLEY, she answers the question of how much is true with, "As much as I could possibly verify." In the story itself, she fills in the gaps with her own conjectures based on what she considers the best evidence. THE DEVIL AMONGST THE LAWYERS, while also retelling an actual trial, takes some liberties with history, as McCrumb explains in her afterword.

Barbara Hambly's novel about the later life of Mary Todd Lincoln, THE EMANCIPATOR'S WIFE, with flashbacks to the former First Lady's youth and her marriage to Lincoln, follows a similar narrative strategy. It adheres to historical facts as known while creatively expanding on them.

Alternate history is a different thing, making deliberate changes in critical events to create a counterfactual world. For instance, S. M. Stirling's currently running series based on the premise that Theodore Roosevelt regained the presidency in the 2012 election is one outstanding example. Secret history, on the other hand, tells stories of critical events that fall between the cracks in documented history, without contradicting recorded facts (e.g., magical combat between British and German witches during World War II in a world otherwise resembling our own past).

What about autobiography? CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN, by Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, has been labeled a "semi-autobiographical novel," although from what I've read about it, the contents are factual. The book does skip around chronologically, however, and it omits some facts, mainly that the Gibreth family never had twelve children living at the same time. The death of one daughter in childhood is not mentioned. The "All Creatures Great and Small" series, by James Herriot (real name Alf Wight), shifts further toward the fiction category. While the incidents in the books really happened, names and other identifying characteristics of people in the episodes have been changed.

How far can a work that claims historical accuracy go with author-created elements before it crosses the line between straight history or biography and fiction?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Inescapably Unromantic

There are some scientific facts about space travel that are inconvenient. Again, I am talking about astronauts and their bodies. 

First, it should be said since my usual topic on this platform is mostly copyright-related, one cannot copyright titles, one cannot copyright facts. What one can copyright is the "expression" of those facts or information.

Fair Use of someone else's copyrighted and published article might include reportage, critique, educational regurgitation, or parody.

For more information, here's a resource that one might describe as the horse's mouth:

The March/April issue of DISCOVER magazine, about "science that matters" contains an article on SPACE AGING by Dave Williams and Elizabeth Howell, with illustrations by Kellie Jaeger (which are unique works that cannot be copied).

Here are ten inescapably unromantic facts about space travellers, reported in no particular order.

a) Astronauts are more likely to grow kidney stones, including very large ones.

Here is an article (from somewhere else) about Urinary conditions suffered by NASA astronauts.

b) Astronauts' feet grow very soft in space, owing to disuse.

Well, I suppose soft-soled feet aren't all that unromantic

c) During a six-month stint in zero or microgravity, an astronaut can age by up to twenty years, and upon their return to earth, astronauts can be relatively feeble.

d) Spines elongate in space.

e) Legs become spindly (thin).

f) Bones become brittle, which is attributable to premature osteoporosis. 

(The building blocks of bones migrate to the urinary system, hence the painful and previously mentioned kidney stones.)

g) Faces and necks can become unattractively "puffy".

h) Arteries stiffen.

i) Hearts change shape.

j) The senses, especially vision, deteriorate.

k) Being in space can mess with ones insulin resistance.

These passion-killer facts need not ruin a good story. Here's a video about the international space station, and there is some enlightening commentary attached.

For the rest, that's what imagination is for... or reading scientific magazines and watching lots of David Attenborough/BBC documentaries.

All the best,

Friday, June 23, 2023

Karen S. Wiesner {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

by Karen S. Wiesner

In the 2019 sci-fi horror The Luminous Dead, Caitlin Starling's first novel, the protagonist, 22-year-old Gyre Price, has risked everything to join the Lethe expedition, supposedly tasked with mapping the cave system, performing mining surveys, and restocking the camps set up along the way. This job will require top-tier cave climbing and diving skills. Because of the extreme danger involved, a hefty reward is promised once the task is completed at the end of the allotted weeks. Gyre's not only lied  by embellishing her work history, but she's also had medical procedures that bolster her credentials as an expert instead of the rookie she actually is, providing physical evidence of prior experience she doesn't actually possess.

Growing up on the mining colony Cassandra-V, Gyre had spent most of her time in slot canyons and pseudocaves near her home (avoiding her dad), teaching herself the ropes of climbing. She has no actual experience diving, something she'll need as this cave system is partially underwater.

In order to qualify for this mission, she was required to have intestinal rearrangement surgery and a catheter put in, custom-fitting her to a drysuit that becomes her home for the duration of the mission. What she's wearing and has to keep on and sealed at all times during her trek is what allows a life-and-death voyage like this to be possible, as it's capable of keeping her alive and protected in numerous ways. The suit maps the terrain, takes and stores samples, along with providing details far superior to human eyes in absolute darkness. Additionally, it allows for the administration of nutrients, water, and medication, but can also be accessed by the handler on the surface, providing real-time communication and intervention, and so much more.

Gyre grew up without a mother. This conflict and motivation is at the core of the plot in this story. It's the reason Gyre signed on for this deadly expedition and what keeps her going even when all logic tells her to abandon her contract with Lethe and haul ass out of the cave ASAP--at the risk of losing her payout in part or the whole, as well as being sued for breach of contract, which will destroy her chance of ever finding future work again in this field.

Gyre quickly learns as this story opens that her handler isn't a team of professionals on the surface working together to keep her alive but a single person: Em, who owns the company and has poured a fortune into this cave and investing in perfecting a suit capable of functioning on so many levels to keep cavers alive. Having a single handler is suicide, as at least two are needed to allow for sleep and downtime.

Before long, Gyre learns Em isn't what she seems, nor is this mission or its endgame. Em has hired on cavers like Gyre often in the past, losing 34 to the horrors of the cave. Her justifications for her actions parallel Gyre's own for signing up in the first place. Their mothers. Em lost both her parents to this cave. Her mother escaped the first time without her husband or the rest of her team, but she was never the same afterward and never healed from her traumatizing losses. Yet the cave called her back, forcing the child Em to endure the loss of her mother all over again.

In this tale, the labyrinthine cave is very much like the third main character, and most definitely a villain with death written all over it at every level, not the least of which includes a humongous monster called a Tunneler that calls the mine its home. This creature is attracted to living beings, the sounds they make, the scents, the very air they breathe. The suit has been designed to mask the person wearing it from its sensors. A Tunneler travels through solid rock, forcing the ground around it to give way, expanding and distorting and exploding it. If a human is nearby, death can be instantaneous as spaces, tunnels, and caves collapse, shatter, and are reformed in incalculable ways. The horror angle of the Tunneler was a very nice touch in this story, adding another layer of tension when it was most needed. But it's not the focus of the story, just a "fun perk" to ratchet out a little more suspense throughout.

From the very first page of this book to the last, I found it hard to put the story down for any length of time. Gyre isn't the kind of character I'd normally root for. She's a head case with mother issues so deep, disturbing, and violent, it's hard to feel sympathy for her, even as I could understand the pain she felt having her mom walk away when she was just a child and also finding out in the course of the book exactly who her mother is--and how selfish. Gyre's whole point signing on to this mission was to get a huge payoff to fund her ability to leave Cassandra-V, find her mom, and kick her in the face. While I get the gut reaction, Gyre was so badly twisted by this driving force that is nearly her entire focus and motivation as a human being that she was forever making impulsive decisions with no basis in logic or reality.

In large part, this was needed for the story's suspense. It was the beauty of it. As Gyre descends further and further into the black hole, it was hard to know how much the darkness, silence, and loneliness; the vast and mysterious abyss all around her with strange, unnatural creatures, flora, and fauna; her complete reliance on the technological marvel of her suit that, at the end of the day, was little more than a fancy cage; and the uncertainty at any given moment about whether her handler Em--her only connection to the surface--was friend or foe contributed to Gyre's growing insanity. The combination of a defeatist attitude toward life was at complete odds with Gyre's extreme will to survive. And that is, oddly, one of the major selling points of this story. In any other story, I'm not sure it would have worked, but the tension it created here was amazingly propelling. I literally never knew from one moment to the next what would happen.

In pairing this main character who lives her life on the knife's edge every second with secondary character Em, who's just as much of a lunatic, the story went back and forth between these two pitted against each other on one end of the spectrum and then fighting together tooth and nail to ensure survival on the other. I consider that the very definition of a nail-biter. At the end of the day, though, crazy plus crazy equals psycho all over the place, not a match made in heaven, as I got the impression it was supposed to ultimately be. 

The author clearly knew a considerable amount about diving, climbing, caves, spelunking, and just about every scientific topic she delved into within this story. I loved every aspect of those breathtaking descriptions. It was the reason I picked the story up in the first place, and Starling delivered in spades.

Anyone who likes sci-fi horror with tension that escalates continuously, filled with flawed and unpredictable characters, and a landscape that's so real and visual it could actually exist in the real world won't want to miss this story. As a testament to the author's finely tuned writing skills, before I was even half done with The Luminous Dead, I bought everything else she has available. Fingers crossed I find another favorite, must-read author.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her website here:


Find out more about her books and see her art here:

Visit her publisher here:

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Linguistic Anachronisms

I'm reading an enthralling new vampire novel, THE GOD OF ENDINGS, by Jacqueline Holland. The first-person protagonist grew up in the 1830s in a small town in New York, as the daughter of a gravestone carver. Her parents, her brother, and she herself all died in an epidemic of tuberculosis. Thanks to her Hungarian grandfather, however, she didn't stay dead. Over the course of her unnaturally prolonged life, she seems to have acquired an excellent education. (In the 1980s, she's the head of an exclusive preschool.) The novel's style is a pleasure to read, evocatively descriptive, almost lyrical. So far, I haven't come upon a single grammatical error or typo, a rarity nowadays even from major publishers. But then -- at one point the narrator breaks the spell and outrages my suspension of disbelief by using "snuck" for "sneaked," an irregular form that I don't recall ever hearing in my own youth, much less reading in any older prose regardless of its informal tone. How did the author miss that error, considering the in-depth research that seems to lie behind her story? Is that lapse a case of not knowing what one doesn't know?

THE CHOSEN, a streaming series whose first three seasons I enjoyed very much (and I'm waiting with impatience for the next season, not due until sometime in 2024), made me wince at a couple of points for a similar reason. It's a retelling of the life of Jesus with an ensemble cast, focusing on the apostles and other prominent people in the Gospels. It imaginatively creates personalities and backstories for them while expanding on what little information the Bible supplies. As a side issue, I wonder why every non-Roman character speaks with an accent, as if the Judeans and Galileans are foreigners to themselves. instead, shouldn't the Romans, as outsiders in the country, be the people with the accents? That's not my main complaint, though. To make the characters relatable, the script has them talking in colloquial American English. That's fine as far as it goes, even the inclusion of "okay." We can assume their dialogue is being translated from the terminology of their own culture into expressions we're familiar with. But now and then a phrase or figure of speech that would have been impossible in that time and place shatters the illusion of realism. The most blatant example is a character referring to some action "pushing" somebody else's "buttons." That metaphor could not have existed much before the twentieth century, maybe at the earliest in the era of the telegraph. Cringe.

Of course, sometimes words feel anachronistic when they aren't. The case of "Tiffany," a modern-sounding feminine name that in fact dates back to the Middle Ages, is a well-known example. One anthology editor told me not to write that a character "scanned" a room in a story set in the 1890s because that image referred to the action of a video camera. Later I found out "scan" was indeed used in that sense before the invention of movies. I once chided a fellow author for having an eighteenth-century character in a work-in-progress call another man a jerk; I was abashed when she pointed me to a source that confirmed the word did exist as an insult in that period. Should an author of historical fiction refrain from using a term that's accurate for the period but might sound wrong to most readers?

Do you notice that kind of thing in fiction? If so, how much does it bother you?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Sunday, June 18, 2023

DMCA Deadlines


Friday, June 16, 2023

Read What You Love, Part 3 by Karen S. Wiesner

            Read What You Love, Part 3

by Karen S. Wiesner

In this three-part article, I talk about what conditions, if any, cultivate or discourage a love of the written word as well as about the importance of reading what you love, regardless of your age, the genre or content appropriateness, your gender, or what's considered your "level". In the last two segments, I'll also review two of my favorite Young Adult book series that any fan of the supernatural should love as I much as I do.

In the first part of this article, I talked about how, in the general sense, people should read what they're interested in. It doesn't matter if someone else dubs it above or below your proper reading level, too mature or immature, if it's in a genre that social convention says adults or kids shouldn't be reading, or if it's something most people think of as gender specific. A love of the written word transcends any boundaries. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Read what you love! In the second article, I provided an in-depth review of Brandon Mull's phenomenal Young Adult Fantasy series Fablehaven and its sequel Dragonwatch.

In this final installment, I'll review Joseph Delaney's Spooksworld, which is, in my opinion, the best Young Adult Fantasy multi-series in existence. Many people may have heard of this series based on the film adaptation that came out in 2015 called The Spook's Apprentice, which was adapted as a play script originally by the author's son. The film featured Ben Barnes playing Tom Ward (he also played Prince Caspian in The Chronicles of Narnia film series), Jeff Bridges as John Gregory, Julianne Moore as Mother Malkin, and Kit Harington (yes, John Snow from HBO's Game of Thrones) as Billy Bradley, among many others. My opinion (which may not mean a lot) is that this movie didn't even come close to capturing the magic found in the books. I find it difficult to watch, honestly, because it was such a poor adaptation of what could have been nothing short of amazing, had the books been followed much closer.

Spooksworld began as a dark fantasy novel saga written by Joseph Delaney. Three separate series comprise this "arc" that includes Thomas "Tom" Ward as a central character in each. In this fictional world, the seventh son of a seventh son (and sometimes the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter) is a unique being equipped above all other humans to sense the supernatural and become a defender against "the Dark", which can include all manner of beasties like ghost, witches, boggarts, and demons. Such a fighting master is referred to as a "Spook".

Before I dive into this unique world, I'll point out that Joseph Delaney is a British author and all of the Spooksworld books were originally published in the UK by The Bodley Head division of Random House Publishing (which is now Penguin Random House). That said, it'll make more sense to explain that the three separate Spooksworld series have different names (for pities' sake, sometimes more than one for each!) in the UK and the US, and that includes the titles in the differing series names also being changed. So I'll start with a basic listing of the original series name and title differences between the UK and the US. You can find out more at the author's website:

In the United States, the original series that began with Tom Ward being apprenticed to the County Spook John Gregory is called The Last Apprentice Series, with the following titles available:

Revenge of the Witch (Book 1)

Curse of the Bane (Book 2)

Night of the Soul Stealer (Book 3)

Attack of the Fiend (Book 4)

Wrath of the Bloodeye (Book 5)

Clash of the Demons (Book 6)

Rise of the Huntress (Book 7)

Rage of the Fallen (Book 8)

Grimalkin the Witch Assassin (Book 9)

Lure of the Dead (Book 10)

Slither (Book 11)

I Am Alice (Book 12)

Fury of the Seventh Son (Book 13)

In the UK it's called The Spook's Series and the individual titles are shortened considerably to:

Apprentice (Book 1)

Curse (Book 2)

Secret (Book 3)

Battle (Book 4)

Mistake (Book 5)

Sacrifice (Book 6)

Nightmare (Book 7)

Destiny (Book 8)

I Am Grimalkin (Book 9)

Blood (Book 10)

Slither’s Tale (Book 11)

Alice (Book 12)

Revenge (Book 13)

Just to make this as confusing as possible, this same series has also been referred to as The Tom/Thomas Ward Chronicles or The Wardstone Chronicles. In French, strangely, it's called L'apprenti L'Épouvanteur, which means "The Scarecrow's Apprentice". Either that's poorly translated or "Spook's" is simply not a word that can be grasped in the French language. Go figure.

In any case, there are also several interconnected offerings to this original series that are occasionally included with further (seemingly conflicting) book numbers in the series. These include: A stand-alone story called Seventh Apprentice, which is an introduction to the series that has an earlier apprentice, Will Johnson, left to fend for himself while his master is away. Bestiary (also called The Guide to Creatures of the Dark), which is a practical record of dealing with the Dark and features John Gregory's personal account of "the denizens " he's encountered, combined with his lessons learned and mistakes made. Short stories are also combined with different stories with varying titles in the UK and US in collections, namely Grimalkin's Tale, Witches, The Spook's Tale and Other Horrors, and A Coven of Witches. Finally, a fun little scary story set in the same world is called The Ghost Prison.

Tom Ward is just a boy when John Gregory comes to claim him as an apprentice. Tom's mother promised her seventh son of a seventh son to the local Spook, who's more than a little cranky and irascible. Though Tom isn't sure about being apprenticed to a hard man like this, he dutifully leaves with the Spook, resigned to being apprenticed by him. Soon, he discovers that most of the man's previous apprentices failed, fled, or were killed in the process of learning the ropes of fighting the Dark. Not surprisingly, Spooks are feared and shunned everywhere…you know, up until ordinary people have need of their unique abilities.

Everything Tom faces as the plot progresses from one book to the next makes for chilling conflict and soul reflection. The uncertain but morally grounded boy grows into a young man changed not only by those he meets, the creatures he fights, and the mystical skills he possesses but by his own convictions about his place in the world.

Seeing Tom mature and become powerful, embracing his role of responsibility to the County he serves, his master, his family, and the world at large was a fascinating byplay of shades of gray. On the surface, as this saga progresses, a hero could easily be a villain while just as easily a former monster may end up becoming an ally. Light and dark coexist, and no one is really what they seem here. My favorite characters can't really be short-listed because there are so many intriguing ones, but those that stand out to me would include Tom first and foremost; his master; his parents and family; Alice Deane, the young witch Tom is warned early on not to trust; the former apprentices of John Gregory who serve in other parts of the world, Bill Arkwright and Judd Brinscall; Grimalkin, the Malkin witch assassin who has many faces, and her apprentice Thorne; and finally Meg, John Gregory's former lover, who lives in his winter house.

When I discovered the first book in the series, I bought all the subsequent ones in one fell swoop, including the miscellaneous bonus offerings. I read them compulsively over the course of about a week, barely sleeping because I was so enthralled, wanting to know what would happen to Tom and his master John Gregory. While there is a point where the books slow down and things are all moving in one direction (toward the defeat of the arch villain, the Fiend, which I didn't find quite as interesting as previous enemies), I've still read the series multiple times. After completing it the first time and feeling sad that there weren't more books about Tom Ward, I went searching for follow-up and discovered that there was indeed a spinoff series to be had.

With the conclusion of the original series in 2013, the author started a spinoff trilogy in 2014 with The Starblade Chronicles (the UK versions go by "Spook's" with the same individual titles) that follows the continued adventures of Tom Ward. The apprentice is now the master Spook, responsible for fighting the evil threatening the County and the surrounding world. The three books include A New Darkness (Book 1), The Dark Army (Book 2), and The Dark Assassin (Book 3).

Tom is now 17 but he never finished his apprenticeship as a Spook. Nevertheless, the County needs his unique skills more than ever and there is no one else willing or able to do what he can. To further complicate his life, a young girl named Jenny, a seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, comes, asking to be his apprentice. Never before has a girl been a Spook, and Tom isn't sure how to feel about it. Yet Jenny has vital information and knowledge that he needs to defeat a new evil threatening humanity. Like it or not, he has to take a chance on her.

Returning to Tom's life after the events of the original series was a thrill for me. I wasn't disappointed, but I was very surprised by a lot of the changes in store that weren't ideal and weren't necessarily what I would have hoped for in a spinoff. However, I enjoyed these books very much, read them just as voraciously as the original series, but I will say I was blindsided by the events in the conclusion. As a tremendous fan of the series, I wasn't entirely happy with the outcome and resolution either. Luckily for me, it wasn't actually the end of Tom's story, though fans of the series did have to wait nearly three years before the author brought back our most beloved Spook.

In 2020, Tom Ward, Alice, and other series favorites returned in a new spinoff series, Brother Wulf, which includes four offerings: Brother Wulf (Book 1), Wulf's Bane (Book 2), The Last Spook (Book 3), and Wulf's War (Book 4, coming 8/17/23).

A young novice monk, Brother Beowulf, is being manipulated and sent by the church to spy on Spook Johnson, who takes Wulf along on his monster battles. After Spook Johnson is captured by one of the very creatures he was supposed to be eliminating, Wulf has no choice but to seek out Tom Ward's help. In this spinoff series, Wulf is the main character, while Tom is the secondary, though still a major protagonist. As with the young Tom Ward in the original series, I was charmed by Wulf, who isn't tainted by the evil that plagues the world around him. He remains pure and determined to do good in a world with so many contradictory players. But Wulf is more than he seems, just as this author's characters always prove to be in the end, and that makes him another hero to root for.

Those new to these books may not realize that Joseph Delaney was battling illness while he was writing the last few books in this series. I'd read all three of the first offerings in it. (Incidentally, I had to purchase Book 3 from Blackwell's booksellers in the UK because it wasn't available in the US, nor do I believe it is even now.) I went to the author's website to find out when the conclusion to the series would be released, and it was there that I was devastated to learn Joseph Delaney lost his battle. The third story ended on a cliffhanger with no satisfactory resolution. It took a long time to resign myself to the fact that I would never learn the conclusion of such a wonderful saga. But then, while I was researching for this review, I discovered that a fourth book would be released posthumously August 2023, on the anniversary of the author's death. Wulf's War was apparently the last book Delaney wrote. I hope this final book provides an ideal conclusion to the series, though I will be more understanding, given how hard it must have been for the author to write this one.

I've also read Delaney's Aberrations series, another dark fantasy sequence, that currently has two installments. I actually talked to the author several years ago (before the Brother Wulf series was published), asking him if more books would follow in that series. I believe he was writing more, but he said that the publisher hadn't yet committed to releasing the next. I'm strongly hoping this series will also be finished at some point in the future, but I don't expect that will be the case. I'll be devastated, since Crafty and his friends may never defeat the evil mist that brought the aberration monsters to their world. Naturally, I'll blame the publisher. I've written a note to those responsible for the upkeep of his website, requesting information about potential future offerings in the series. We'll see if I get a response.

As I said early in this article series, I discovered Spooksworld as a 30-something year old adult and would have missed it (and been the worse for it) and so many others if I cared a whit about maturity, appropriateness, genre, and level classifications when it comes to selecting my reading material.

Life is too short to read only what's expected of you. Instead, make the most of the remaining years you have exploring an entire universe of wonderful reading material available to you.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her website here:


Find out more about her books and see her art here:

Visit her publisher here:

Thursday, June 15, 2023

The Internet Knows All

This week I acquired a new HP computer to replace my old Dell, which had started unpredictably freezing up at least once per day. Installing Windows 11 didn't fix it. It had reached the point where even CTRL-ALT-DEL didn't unfreeze it; I had to turn it off manually and restart every time it failed. It feels great to have a reliable machine again.

Two things struck me about the change: First, the price of the new one, bundled with a keyboard and mouse, about $500. Our first computer, an Apple II+ purchased as a gift at Christmas of 1982, cost over $2000 with, naturally, nowhere near the capabilities of today's devices. No hard drive, no Windows or Apple equivalent therof, and of course no internet. And in that year $2000 was worth a whole lot more than $2000 now. Imagine spending today's equivalent in 2023 dollars for a home electronic device. Back then, it was a serious financial decision that put us into debt for a long time. Thanks to advances in technology, despite inflation some things DO get cheaper. An amusing memory: After unveiling the wondrous machine in 1982, my husband decreed, "The kids are never going to touch this." LOL. That rule didn't last long! Nowadays, in contrast, we'd be lost if we couldn't depend on our two youngest offspring (now middle-aged) for tech support.

The second thing that struck me after our daughter set up the computer: How smoothly and, to my non-tech brain, miraculously, Windows and Google Chrome remembered all my information from the previous device. Bookmarks, passwords, document files (on One Drive), everything I needed to resume work almost as if the hardware hadn't been replaced. What a tremendous convenience. On the other hand, it's a little unsettling, too. For me, the most eerie phenomenon is the way many websites know information from other websites they have no connection to. For example, the weather page constantly shows me ads for products I've browsed on Amazon. Sometimes it seems that our future AI overlords really do see all and know all.

In response to recent warnings about the "existential threat" posed by AI, science columnist Keith Tidman champions a more optimistic view:

Dark Side to AI?

He points out the often overlooked difference between weak AI and strong AI. Weak AI, which already exists, isn't on the verge of taking over the world. Tidman, however, seems less worried about the subtle dangers of the many seductively convenient features of the current technology than most commentators are. As for strong AI, it's not here yet, and even if it eventually develops human-like intelligence, Tidman doesn't think it will try to dominate us. He reminds us, "At the moment, in some cases what’s easy for humans to do is extraordinarily hard for machines to do, while the converse is true, too." If this disparity "evens out" in the long run, he nevertheless believes, "Humans won’t be displaced, or harmed, but creative human-machine partnerships will change radically for the better."

An amusing incidental point about this article: On the two websites I found by googling for it, one page is headlined, "There Is Inevitable Dark Side to AI" and the other, "There Is No Inevitable Dark Side to AI." So even an optimistic essay can be read pessimistically! (Unless the "No" was just accidentally omitted in the first headline. But it still looks funny.)

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Sunday, June 11, 2023


This week, most of the law blogs are discussing either AI or the Warhol case, however, I came upon a fascinating podcast discussing derivative works and fan fiction.

The law office is Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.

The headline is So You Want To Write Fan Fiction. The discussion between Wendy Kearns and Kraig Marini Baker is fascinating and very helpful.

There's also a really good discussion of permitted parody.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Friday, June 09, 2023

Read What You Love, Part 2 by Karen S. Wiesner

Read What You Love, Part 2

by Karen S. Wiesner

In this three-part article, I talk about what conditions, if any, cultivate or discourage a love of the written word as well as about the importance of reading what you love, regardless of your age, the genre or content appropriateness, your gender, or what's considered your "level". In the last two segments, I'll also review two of my favorite Young Adult book series that any fan of the supernatural should love as I much as I do.

In the first part of this article, I talked about how, in the general sense, people should read what they're interested in. It doesn't matter if someone else dubs it above or below your proper reading level, too mature or immature, if it's in a genre that social convention says adults or kids shouldn't be reading, or if it's something most people think of as gender specific. A love of the written word transcends any boundaries. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Read what you love!

In this next part, I'll review a phenomenal Young Adult series I discovered as a 30-something year old adult and would have missed (and been the worse for it) if I cared anything about maturity, appropriateness, genre, and level classifications. Fablehaven is a Young Adult Fantasy series with five books in the first set with another five in the spinoff Dragonwatch.

In the very first installment that shares the same name as the series, the main characters of the series, young adults Kendra and Seth Sorenson, are spending the summer with grandparents they've barely met up to this point in their lives. Never could they have imagined that Stan and Ruth are the current caretakers of Fablehaven, a centuries' old hidden refuge for all sorts of mythical creatures they're protecting from extinction. This sanctuary survives as one of the last strongholds of magic in the real world. In the restricted woods around the property, ancient laws dictate order among a wide selection of supernatural creatures that run the gamut between good and evil and sometimes a little of both at once. The kids meet witches, fairies, satyrs, trolls, imps, mermaids, and--hoo-ya!--dragons. And that's not even close to all that crop up as the first saga is spun. Each volume introduces new additions to the creatures that inhabit this fascinating secret world along with compelling characters in various organizations on the outside pursuing the incredible wealth and power controlling the magical preserves and the arcane magic hidden in each that could be theirs.

Being the older of the two, Kendra (12-13) is more sensible and mature (if a bit too perfect), almost always working to do the altruistic thing and/or to right the wrongs--frequently those caused by her own brother. In contrast, Seth (11) is immature, reckless, impulsive, a bit greedy, and far too curious for his own good. In large part, the problems that take place in both of the connected series are due to Seth's consistent failure to think things through to the inevitable conclusion instead of the one he optimistically envisions. However, lest you think these are clichéd or what-you-see-on-the-surface-is-what-you-get characters, let me assure you, they're not. Seth is fun and fun-loving, and you can't help but love and root for him, even as you're rolling your eyes, going "Seth, Seth, have you learned nothing from the last time you tried something stupid like this?!" His boundless enthusiasm pulls you along despite yourself. Kendra is also a multifaceted character with strengths and weaknesses, though she begins and often is very typical of what you'd expect. She serves as a good role model to anyone else who's had their vision of what life and reality are turned completely upside down. The siblings discover their own sort of magic power within the course of the series that can help or hinder their efforts to keep the magical refuges unharmed and intact.

The grandparents Stan and Ruth running Fablehaven are well-drawn and complex, as you'd expect, as are those associated with the sanctuary--Lena, the housekeeper, Dale, the groundskeeper, and his brother Warren; and Hugo the golem; the mystical world at large; and secret organizations, each in their capacities of helping or harming. There are many other intriguing characters that readers will enjoy having join the cast. The parents of Kendra and Seth are nearly non-existent. In Book 1, I accepted that they were going on a 17-day cruise and so basically dropped off the kids and had no reason to really worry anything could go wrong. But their continued absence and/or lack of involvement through the other four books in the series were the only aspect I found a little bit unsettling and unrealistic.

Starting in the second book in the series, Rise of the Evening Star (an archaic society seeking to grab control of the magic preserves around the globe), five artifacts of immense power become the focus of this story and Books 3-5 (titled respectively The Grip of the Shadow Plague, Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary, and Keys to the Demon Prison) as those protecting the sanctuary and the other four like it all over the globe try to keep these talismans from falling into the hands of those who wish to subvert and unleash what could destroy the world--magic and human alike--as they know it.

Though Book 5 ends on an optimistic, if a little unresolved (purposely, I believe) note, it's not the end. Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary introduced Wyrmroost, a hidden dragon sanctuary, that becomes the focus of the spinoff series, Dragonwatch. In the first book of the same name as the series, four months have passed since the events of Keys of the Demon Prison. Kendra and Seth are a little older, a little wiser, and both are equipped with powers that will prove vital to fighting an all-new threat. Their cousins Knox and Tess are also visiting Fablehaven for the summer, which is bound to cause endless issues and conflicts.

In Dragonwatch, a fearless dragon named Celebrant, King of Dragons, wants to reign without borders by returning the world to the Age of Dragons, when dragons, not humans, ruled. Celebrant was actually one of the many heroes of the previous series instrumental in its satisfactory, if not ideal, conclusion. Dragonwatch was an ancient order of wizards, sorceresses, and dragon slayers that subdued the dragons in the past, but nearly all of the former guardians are gone. 

Once again, in the course of the five books (Dragonwatch, Wrath of the Dragon King, Master of the Phantom Isle, Champion of the Titan Games, and Return of the Dragon Slayers), we're treated to a host of compelling creatures including the dragons (both good, evil, and those who could go either way), of course, but also unicorns, giants, fairies, demons, and the king of the undead. Kendra and Seth are unfathomably made co-caretakers of the Wyrmroost dragon prison (along with a wizard). The two main characters we rooted for all through the first series retain the traits we either loved or decried then in this new series. Incidentally, Kendra and Seth's all but missing parents in Fablehaven do put in an appearance this time, eventually, as I wanted them to in the previous series.

In Dragonwatch, the humans, wizards, the characters we've come to love in Fablehaven as well as new ones (Knox and Tess, in particular), and even some previous enemies become allies in this "enemy of my enemy is my friend" plotline. Those assembled in the course of the series form another intriguing cast. Kendra and Seth are separated for most of the stories, as they work to prevent the seven dragon sanctuaries around the globe from falling. But only together can they become the comingled dragon slayer that can end the threat of draconic domination.

As the Fablehaven volumes did, each book starts where the previous one left off, so there's solid conflict from start to finish, and you're immediately plunged into tense scenarios at the beginning while also unable to keep yourself from grabbing the next when one ends.

I've read Fablehaven a number of times, Dragonwatch only once (so far). The creatures pull me in each and every time while the characters keep me on my toes, following them from one (mis)adventures to the next. The suspense is incredible, with each book impossibly better than the previous. I couldn't set any of the stories aside to read something else altogether. I was too enthralled with both series. I read them back to back, barely sleeping until I'd finished them from start to finish. These are keepers worth every penny I spent on them. I expect to read them indefinitely for the rest of my life. Incidentally, while there has been talk of a Fablehaven movie, which would be amazing beyond belief, so far nothing has come of it. Fingers crossed for the future!

In the final installment of this article next week, I'll review Joseph Delaney's Spooksworld, what is, in my opinion, the most fantastic Young Adult fantasy multi-series in existence.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her website here:


Find out more about her books and see her art here:

Visit her publisher here:

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Existential Threat?

As you may have seen in the news lately, dozens of experts in artificial intelligence have supported a manifesto claiming AI could threaten the extinction of humanity:

AI Could Lead to Extinction

Some authorities, however, maintain that this fear is overblown and "a distraction from issues such as bias in systems that are already a problem" and other "near-term harms."

Considering the "prophecies of doom" in detail, we find that the less radically alarmist doom-sayers aren't talking about Skynet, HAL 9000, or even self-aware Asimovian robots circumventing the Three Laws to dominate their human creators. More immediately realistic warnings call attention to risks posed by such things as the "deep fake" programs Rowena discusses in her recent post. In the near future, we could see powerful AI "drive an exponential increase in the volume and spread of misinformation, thereby fracturing reality and eroding the public trust, and drive further inequality, particularly for those who remain on the wrong side of the digital divide."

On the other hand, a member of an e-mail list I subscribe to has written an essay maintaining that the real existential threat of advanced AI doesn't consist of openly scary threats, but irresistibly appealing cuteness:

Your Lovable AI Buddy

Suppose, in the near future, everyone has a personal AI assistant, more advanced and individually programmed than present day Alexa-type devices? Not only would this handheld, computerized friend keep track of your schedule and appointments, preorder meals from restaurants, play music and stream videos suited to your tastes, maybe even communicate with other people's AI buddies, etc., "It knows all about you, and it just wants to make you happy and help you enjoy your life. . . . It would be like a best friend who’s always there for you, and always there. And endlessly helpful." As he mentions, present-day technology could probably create a device like that now. And soon it would be able to look much more lifelike than current robots. Users would get emotionally attached to it, more so than with presently available lifelike toys. What could possibly be the downside of such an ever-present, "endlessly helpful" friend or pet?

Not so fast. If we're worried about hacking and misinformation now, think of how easily our hypothetical AI best friend could subtly shape our view of reality. At the will of its designers, it could nudge us toward certain political or social viewpoints. It could provide slanted, "carefully filtered" answers to sensitive questions. This development wouldn't require "a self-aware program, just one that seems to be friendly and is capable of conversation, or close enough." Building on its vast database of information collected from the internet and from interacting with its user, "It wouldn’t just be trained to emotionally connect with humans, it would be trained to emotionally manipulate humans."

In a society with a nearly ubiquitous as well as almost omniscient product like that, the disadvantaged folks "on the wrong side of the digital divide" who couldn't afford one might even be better off, at least in the sense of privacy and personal freedom.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Sunday, June 04, 2023

You Can't Make It Up [Double Entendre]

I may have used "You Can't Make It Up" for an earlier post, so have added a disclaimer. My apologies if the disclaimer [Double Entedre] weakens the title, does not make sense, or comes across as pretentious.

What can't one make up?

For one thing, one cannot make up ones own copyright law to suit oneself. 

CDL or Controlled Digital Lending is not something that a so-called internet library may simply impose on copyright owners. One may not purchase a print copy of a copyrighted work, scan it, and create an e-book for the purpose of loaning out that ebook to online borrowers. One "can" do it, as has been demonstrated, but by doing so, one falls afoul of copyright law and one may lose a copyright infringement lawsuit.

The case is Hachette Book Group, Inc versus Internet Archive. Legal bloggers Matthew Samet and Margaret A. Esquenet for the law firm Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett and Dunner LLP write a very thorough, reasoned, and superb explanation of how the Internet Archive fails on every point of law to justify copyright infringement under the "fair use" doctrine.

There may be an appeal. This case could go further, although this writer wonders how a self-described "non-profit" enterprise has the funding necessary to litigate the matter for years.

For The Copyright Alliance, Isabella Hyun discusses the Internet Archive, but also a variety of other seminal literary copyright cases of which writers and publishers should be aware.

For anyone who really likes to get into the weeds (see the logo of the House Judiciary Committee), there is an informative video on the hearings on AI and IP.

Speaking of Artificial Intelligence (as I did just a week or so ago), a guest on one of the financial news programs that I have on in my kitchen all day, weekdays (except for when I try to do my part to prevent blackouts by cutting back on my power consumption) explained how his company was scammed using a deep fake of his distinctive voice.

As I recall, the scammers made a brief telephone call purporting to be from the executive in question to a direct report. The scammers claimed that the line or connection was bad, and "he" (the boss) would complete the call by text. The scammers then, still pretending to be the distinctive-voiced boss, instructed the employee to send gift cards to certain folks. The scam was discovered because they made a further request, and the employee called the real boss and asked in person if the boss truly wanted to send a second batch of gift cards.

This bad stuff is not made up. Just do a search of "deep fake voice".

My view? Never agree to voice-recognition as authentication for any accounts that you want to be secure!

All the best,

Rowena Cherry