Christmas at Castle Keyvnor – Erica Monroe

Christmas at Castle Keyvnor, twelve linked Regency romance novellas

Today, my guest author is Erica Monroe, who has a Regency romance novella in Charmed at Christmas, one of the Christmas at Castle Keyvnor anthologies. Please welcome Erica!

Author Erica MonroeMy heroine Felicity Fields of THE DETERMINED DUCHESS (available in Charmed at Christmas) practices alchemy, a chemical and speculative philosophy that aimed at transmuting metals into their base elements. Much of alchemy focuses on transforming common substances into substances that have great value, like gold, as discussed below. While much of modern science can trace its roots back to alchemy, chemistry is probably the most notable, and in fact until the 1830’s scientists were oft called “chemists” or “natural philosophers,” regardless of what they studied. In fact, Isaac Newton’s alchemical papers have now been found and portions can be viewed online, as well as in museums.

Though alchemy has an ancient history that spans across several continents and centuries, by the Regency alchemy had fallen out of favor and was no longer viewed as a “real” science. Instead, scientific research moved more toward chemistry, galvanization, and astronomy. Alchemy began to be viewed as a form of witchcraft, and many scientists were in a hurry to distance themselves from being seen as pseudoscientists.

I had a lot of fun depicting the Regency disdain for alchemy. Felicity faces scorn on two fronts because not only is she a woman dabbing in subjects many thought were better left to men, but she is actively pursuing alchemical experiments that have now become taboo. Christy Carlyle and I got the idea that we’d both write scientists, but we’d have them at odds with each other. Septimus Locke, the hero of A LOVE FOR LADY WINTER, is pursuing galvanization, and he views Felicity’s attempts to recreate the Philosopher’s Stone as absurd and pointless. (You can read Christy’s excellent novella in Enchanted at Christmas.)

The Philosopher's Stone as pictured in Atalanta Fugiens Emblem 21The Philosopher’s Stone is perhaps the most famous and intriguing of alchemical works, and so when I wrote THE DETERMINED DUCHESS, I had to include it. To fans of Harry Potter, the Philosopher’s Stone probably sounds familiar. In J.K. Rowling’s HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, she reinvents the work of famous alchemist Nicholas Flamel. (The British title of this book is indeed HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE, off of Flamel’s work). For many alchemists, the Philosopher’s Stone represented the ultimate triumph – not only on a scientific level, but also on a spiritual level. It was thought that if one was able to take the stone through the three stages of transmutation – Black Phase, White Phase, Red Phase—you’d be able to unlock the mysteries of the universe.

The alchemical symbol for the Philosopher's Stone, 17th centuryFelicity doesn’t care about using the stone to transform simple materials into gold. She’s after the Elixir of Life that one can supposedly make from the stone. The Elixir of Life has many interpretations throughout both Eastern and Western philosophy, but I chose to focus mostly on the work done by alchemists in Europe, as that is what Felicity would have had access to. The Elixir of Life is said to have granted Flamel and his wife eternal life, and it contained healing properties as well.

Because of the Elixir of Life’s special properties, Felicity hopes to use the stone to bring back her beloved guardian from the dead. (THE DETERMINED DUCHESS is my take on Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN, make of that what you will). It was a challenge to balance Felicity’s alchemical experiments with her very real grief over her guardian’s death—science has always been her touchstone, so she sees it as a way to make sure that she is never abandoned again, and she thinks she owes her guardian a second chance at life.

Will she succeed? You’ll have to read CHARMED AT CHRISTMAS to find out. 😉

For more information on alchemy, you can check out my story board on Pinterest.

Erica Monroe is a USA Today Bestselling Author of dark, suspenseful historical romance. She was a finalist in the published historical category for the prestigious Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Romantic Suspense, and her books have been recommended reads at Fresh Fiction, Smexy Books, SBTB, and All About Romance. When not writing, she is a chronic TV watcher, sci-fi junkie, and comic book fanatic. She lives in the suburbs of North Carolina with her husband, two dogs, and a cat. Visit Erica online at and sign up for her new release newsletter at:

Charmed at Christmas, one of the Christmas at Castle Keyvnor anthologies of Regency romances, including one by Claire DelacroixCharmed at Christmas
includes Erica Monroe’s The Determined Duchess
After the death of her beloved guardian, Miss Felicity Fields is left alone with an uncertain future. But this blunt bluestocking has a secret: she’s determined to resurrect her guardian through the ancient art of alchemy. The last thing she needs is the return of Nicholas Harding, the Duke of Wycliffe and rightful owner of her home on the wild coast of Cornwall. He stirs an unexpected passion within her, and Felicity has had enough change in her life.
When they were children, Nicholas never understood his aunt’s brilliant but unemotional ward, or her many scientific studies. Now, he’s determined to bring Felicity to London so that she may make a match within society–except he can’t stop thinking about her. But with the line between life and death blurred by Felicity’s experiments, can he convince her that she’s no longer alone, and her proper place is by his side?

Available September 26, 2017

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A Full Deck

Do you read tarot cards?

I do, although I used to read them more often than I do now. A tarot card deck has 78 cards: the 56 cards called the minor arcana, plus 22 trump cards called the major arcana. The minor arcana are similar to the decks of 52 playing cards that we use for other games: there are four suits of 14 cards each, with cards numbered from 1 to 10 in each suit, plus “face cards” of a page, a knight, a queen and a king. (In the 52-card decks we use for other games, there are only three face cards: the jack, the queen, and the king.)

I just bought a new deck and am very happy with it.

The oldest surviving tarot cards were created in Italy in the fifteenth century and were painted on commission for powerful families. The Pierpont-Morgan Visconti-Sforza deck is the one I just bought. It’s a reproduction of actual cards that have been preserved. All but four of the 78 cards have survived, although they are in different collections. The Accademia Carrara in Bergamo, Italy owns 26 cards; the Pierpont-Morgan Library in New York owns 35 cards, and there are 13 cards in a private collection in Italy, the Casa Colleoni. These cards are big, at 17.5 by 8.7 cm, and this reproduction is the same size. They were paintings, as well—there are cards surviving from about the same time that were printed from woodcuts.

The four lost cards in this deck are The Devil, The Tower, the Three of Swords and the Knight of Coins, but they’ve been created to make the deck complete, and designed to coordinate with the rest of the deck.  There’s a cheaper version of this deck, but I thought the museum’s connection would ensure the quality was superior. The deck comes in a hinged box with a book of interpretations, as well as the story of the history of the cards.

I thought this deck was beautiful before I received it, and I’m dazzled by the reproduction. One thing is that I’m not sure I’ll be able to shuffle such big cards and work with them for readings. They also don’t have numbers or titles on the higher arcana cards or the suit cards, so it’s a case of working with the cards to recognize each one. It took me a few minutes to realize that the king in each suit is on his throne, the knight is on his horse and the page is on his feet, and that’s how to tell them apart. It won’t take long to become accustomed to it once I have a look at its conventions. I may use it for meditation instead of readings.

When I bought my first deck of tarot cards almost thirty years ago, there wasn’t a reproduction of the Visconti-Sforza available, even though it was obviously known. Maybe the museums and collectors still had to work out a partnership. It was the one I wanted, but instead, I bought the Medieval Scapini deck, which features card images painted by Luigi Scapini and which are clearly inspired by the Visconti-Sforza deck. The cards are smaller and I’ve done a lot of readings with mine. Here are some of the cards side by side.

These are the first four cards in the Higher Arcana – The Fool, The Magician, The Popess (The High Priestess in other decks) and The Empress.Two tarot decks compared - the Higher Arcana

The next four cards in the Higher Arcana are The Emperor, The Pope, The Lovers and The Chariot.

Two tarot decks compared - the Higher Arcana

The next four cards are Justice, The Hermit, The Wheel of Fortune and Force.  Notice how different the Force card is. The illustration on the smaller card is more typical now.Two tarot decks compared - the Higher Arcana

The next four Higher Arcana cards are The Hanged Man, Death, Temperance and The Devil. (The Devil is one of the missing cards in the actual deck.)Two tarot decks compared - the Higher Arcana

The next four Higher Arcana cards are The Falling Tower (another missing card) The Star, The Moon and The Sun. I love the depictions on The Star and The Moon, which are both different from what’s become typical. (The small cards have more familiar imagery.)Two tarot decks compared - the Higher Arcana

The last two trumps are Judgment and The World. Once again, the illustration on the smaller card is more typical of other decks, but the medieval one is quite beautiful.Two tarot decks compared - the Higher Arcana

Just for fun, here are the four queens: the Queen of Swords, the Queen of Wands (called Staves in the larger deck), the Queen of Coins and the Queen of Cups. There’s so much gold leaf on the Queen of Cups that she didn’t photograph well – the original card must be amazing.Two tarot decks compared - the Queens

And finally, here are the aces, just to compare. The Ace of Coins, the Ace of Swords, the Ace of Cups and the Ace of Wands (or Staves, as the case may be.)Two tarot decks compared - the Aces

The cards have different meanings when they’re reversed or inverted, and I can see that I’ll have to pay attention with the suit cards to be sure I notice their orientation.

This adventure started because Astro Jen sent me a book, which I’m enjoying a great deal. Mystical Origins of the Tarot by Paul Huson discusses (and speculates) on the origin of the tarot deck as we know it. He talks about the Danse Macabre and medieval miracle plays, which is sending me off on another research tangent. I’m familiar with the York cycle of plays, which were performed on Corpus Christi day, as well as some plays adopted by Mummers, like the story of St. George and the dragon. (Alexander and the company from Kinfairlie dress as Mummers and act out this play in The Snow White Bride.) But there are many other medieval miracle plays and I’m having a wonderful time learning more about them.

Have you embarked on any research adventures lately?

Gardens at The Cloisters

Last week, I was in NYC for Book Expo, but I had a little bit of extra time. I spent a good bit of that time at one of my favorite sites in New York, The Cloisters. This museum is part of the Metropolitan Museum and is located in Fort Tryon Park at 190th Street. Here’s a bit from their brochure:

“Welcome to The Cloisters, the branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. Set on a hilltop with commanding views of the Hudson River, The Cloisters is designed in a style evocative of medieval architecture specifically for the display of masterpieces created during that era. Arranged roughly chronologically and featuring works primarily from western Europe, the collection includes sculpture, stained glass, tapestries, painting, manuscript illumination, and metalwork. The extensive gardens feature medieval plantings, enhancing the evocative environment.

History of the Museum
John D. Rockefeller Jr. generously provided for the building, the setting in Fort Tryon Park, and the acquisition of the notable George Grey Barnard Collection, the nucleus of The Cloisters collection. Barnard, an American sculptor whose work can be seen in the American Wing of the Metropolitan, traveled extensively in France, where he purchased medieval sculpture and architectural elements, often from descendants of citizens who had appropriated objects abandoned during the French Revolution. The architect Charles Collens incorporated these medieval elements into the fabric of The Cloisters, which opened to the public in 1938.”

Just to give you a sample of why I love this place so much, here are some pictures taken at The Cloisters last week. Here I am at the entry.

Claire Delacroix at the CloistersThere are four cloisters incorporated into The Cloisters, and the first one you visit on entering the museum is the Cuxa cloister. This comes from a Benedictine monastery called Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa near Canigou in the Pyrenees and is distinctive not only for its pink stone but for its carvings. The cloister dates from the 12th century and is planted in a style typical of monastic gardens.Cuxa Cloister taken by Claire Delacroix at The Cloisters Cuxa Cloister taken by Claire Delacroix at The Cloisters Cuxa Cloister taken by Claire Delacroix at The Cloisters It’s tough to take pictures inside the museum, as camera flashes are not allowed and it was a dingy day. We did manage a few, though. This is the entrance to the Langon Chapel, which includes architectural details from a 12th century church from Notre-Dame-du-Bourg at Langon near Bordeaux. The doorway shows Charlemagne and Clovis as donors of the chapel, so it must have been built on a donation from those kings. The picture is taken from the Saint-Guilhem Cloister.

Langon Chapel entrance taken by Claire Delacroix at The Cloisters

The artifacts inside the museum are amazing, from sculpture to stained glass to textiles (the Unicorn Tapestries are here as well as the Nine Heroes). There are also marvelous works in the treasury, including boxes in ivory, reliquaries and medieval books of hours. Every time I visit, I notice something new and wonderful. Here’s a window in the Boppard Room, which gives you a glimpse of the stained glass – these windows are from a 15th century convent in Boppard-am-Rhein.

Stained glass in the Boppard room taken by Claire Delacroix at The Cloisters The fourth cloister is my favourite, so I’ve saved it for last. The Bonnefont Cloister is home to medieval plants, planted in an arrangement characteristic of a monastery. There’s a central font, with beds arranged around it, and the plants are sorted according to their use. Dye plants are in one bed, medicinals in another, culinary in another, etc. They’re also supported with wattled fences, which are a medieval garden feature.

In this shot, we’ve just stepped into the garden and are looking right, toward the culinary plants. We’re going to walk to that next corner and stop by the three steps. The Bonnefont Cloister garden at the The Cloisters in New York taken by Claire DelacroixThis shot is taken from the foot of those three steps. On the right are culinary plants against the wall; on the left in the foreground are dye plants. The two trees growing against the chapel wall at the far end (behind the very modern sign!) are espaliered pear trees. This chapel (the Gothic Chapel) showcases stained glass windows from 14th century Austria. The railing is where we’ll eventually exit the garden. Notice the pots of herbs on the stone wall – there’s rosemary and houseleek and thyme there, as well as one I’ll show you last. Let’s walk toward the yellow sign.The Bonnefont Cloister garden at the The Cloisters in New York taken by Claire DelacroixThis is a little shy of that next corner, looking back to the door where we entered the garden. Those glorious yellow flowers are woad in bloom – medieval people made a blue dye from woad, a plant indigenous to northern Europe. Even after indigo was available and much admired for the deep blue colour it created, its expense meant that woad was still used. Woad makes a more medium blue colour (sky blue) that fades.The Bonnefont Cloister garden at the The Cloisters in New York taken by Claire DelacroixNow we’ve gone to the final corner and are looking back to the font. We’ll leave through the door on the left. The chapel and the pear trees are on our left, out of view. These plants in the foreground are medicinal. The four trees growing in the middle of the garden are quince trees. The Bonnefont Cloister garden at the The Cloisters in New York taken by Claire DelacroixThe font.The Bonnefont Cloister garden at the The Cloisters in New York taken by Claire DelacroixBack to the medicinal garden, standing a little closer to the chapel and turned back toward the entry. You can see the low wall on the right (probably south) side. You can see the big leaves of elecampane at the left. The Bonnefont Cloister garden at the The Cloisters in New York taken by Claire DelacroixAnd a very pretty lily, growing in a pot on the wall before we go back inside. The Bonnefont Cloister garden at the The Cloisters in New York taken by Claire DelacroixThanks for visiting The Cloisters with me! You can read more about the museum on their website, right here.

Be Vewy Vewy Quiet…

It’s going to be quiet on the blog this week, as I’ll be away and probably offline. I’m going to the Novelist’s Ink conference in New York and doing some research in the city as well. I’m looking forward to seeing old friends, making some new ones, talking far too much and maybe drinking a little bit of wine. So, behave yourselves and I’ll check back in before I go to the World Fantasy conference in Toronto next week. (Then I’ll put away my suitcase until the RWA National conference in Atlanta next July.)

Here’s a little something to keep you company while I’m gone…

Coming Soon!
No Halo Required is a novella linked to the Prometheus Project – it follows that trilogy – and is Tupperman’s story.
Read more right HERE.


In 2013, Dragonfire continues with the Dragon Legion Novellas. Read more about them, right HERE.

Return to Sayerne

This week, three of the medieval romances I wrote for Harlequin Historicals are being re-released in digital editions. This is part of Harlequin’s publication program for backlist titles called “Harlequin Treasury” which goes on sale July 15. My releases are MY LADY’S CHAMPION, ENCHANTED and MY LADY’S DESIRE. There are buy links on my blog HERE, and you can read the cover copy for them on my site HERE. (Scroll down to the bottom of the page – the Sayerne trilogy is the last trilogy I wrote for Harlequin Historicals.) They are using the old covers, but adding a red border around them. I’m very happy about this as the covers for these three books were just lovely. ENCHANTED has a cover by Pino, while the other two have covers by Judy York.

These three books revolve around a holding which I called Sayerne. Sayerne is a fictional location, but it’s based somewhat upon Sion, which is located in the French part of Switzerland (Valais canton). I visited here in the early 1990’s and thought it was a magical part of the world. Sion is nestled in a valley, close to the St. Bernard pass. In the middle of the valley are two peaks, and on the top of each peak is a castle. Since the valley is comparatively narrow, these two peaks offer a great vantage point. They’ve been well fortified over the centuries, again for defensive purposes. There’s also marvelous medieval organ in the lower castle.

Here’s a link to the tourism site for Sion. The pictures me want to visit there again – or at least set another medieval romance there!

Now For Something Completely Different…

Did you ever watch Monty Python? That was one of my favourite lines – “and now for something completely different…” – because it always did introduce something that had little to do with whatever had come before. I loved the unexpectedness of that troupe.

Anyway, this isn’t a blog about Monty Python. It’s a blog about something different – something other than writing paranormal romance or the appeal of angels or the majesty of dragons or any of that other stuff I’ve been guest blogging about for the past 60 days. All good, but I’m ready for a change.

This isn’t even (*gasp*) about knitting.

This is about a triumph of organization. Mr. C. used to subscribe to National Geographic magazine. For years. And these are the kind of magazines that you don’t pitch – or at least, Mr. C. and I don’t pitch them. So we have bunches of National Geographic magazines. I like them a lot and use them when I’m doing research. The pictures and the maps can be very helpful. They’re also good to just browse through. Mr. C. has been known to grab half a dozen issues on a rainy day, and just read.

The problem is that a/ we have a lot of them; b/ they weigh a ton; and c/ bookshelf space is always at a premium in our house. In our old house, we had a built-in bookshelf which they filled, but since moving, the magazines have remained packed in their boxes. This isn’t ideal for either browsing or finding a specific issue.

Until this past weekend. We bought some of those cheap pine shelving units. Mr. C. assembled them in the basement and I unpacked and sorted the magazines. Wow! They’re all accessible! They’re all in order! And – bonus – Mr. C. installed a light right in that corner. Perfect for browsing.

I’m excited about this. I want to pull up a chair and start reading, right now!

Just in case you didn’t know, National Geographic has a catalogue on their website. You can search there, just as you do at the library, and learn which issue(s) you need to find the articles you want. Here’s a link. How cool is that?

(Maybe we’re not the only ones with a whole whack of National Geographic magazines.)

How about you? Do you have a stash of the yellow-spined mags? Or do you stash another kind of magazine? How do you store them? What do you use them for? How do you find the one you want or need?

A Medieval Experiment

This is kind of interesting – in France, they’re building a medieval castle, using only medieval materials and techniques. The site is called Guédelon.

Here’s the link.

Note that there is a nice video on the home page, but once it launched, I couldn’t find a close button on the video window. Once you play it (if you play it),  choose another tab from the menu bar to make it go away.