Archimedes Nesselrode is an artist who “makes things”–no one knows how–whimsical delights encased in plastic cubes which vanish when opened. He lives by himself in a house which his agent and manager, Frank Shekle, refers to as “a chimera farm.” Enter Ms. Vivian Mare, a woman of formidable talents and determination, who is daunted neither by the artist’s guardian basilisk nor by the appalling state of the house.
As housekeeper, Ms. Mare must deal with a bespectacled heron, a winged snake, a small bishop who resides in a silver teapot, and a crew of naughty marmosets getting into the crackers. Despite the challenges of the household, which include an appallingly large spider, Ms. Mare’s cool and practical nature is charmed to fondness by the gentle artist and his creations. But as Ms. Mare learns more about her employer and his mysterious talents, she discovers they have a dark side. Archimedes Nesselrode can make horrors as well as whimsical novelties, and there are good reasons why he hides himself away in isolation.
“If you can imagine Mary Poppins tending to an adult rather than children — and her charge being the one with the magic — then you have a sense of what awaits you in Justine Graykin’s charming romantic fantasy. Just don’t upset the magician.” –Hugo nominee Daniel M. Kimmel, author of Jar Jar Binks Must Die and Shh! It’s a Secret
“Jane Eyre meets Beauty and the Beast in this delightful fantasy of a no-nonsense modern housekeeper dealing with a magical household. Great Fun!” –Kathryn Sullivan, author of Talking to Trees
Here’s a link to a video of the book’s release party, a gala almost as much fun as the reception for the Artist himself.
Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter.
“I hardly ever use the front door,” Archimedes Nesselrode said as they went up the steps. “I don’t think I could even get it open. It sticks dreadfully. This goes directly into the kitchen. More handy for you, I’d guess.”
“Most likely,” she agreed. She stepped into the entryway, the door closing behind her. She caught her breath. The condition of the interior was appalling. She walked into the kitchen, expecting the worst, and was greeted by a scene beyond her expectations. They surprised half a dozen black monkey-like creatures tearing apart a loaf of bread on the kitchen table. Mr. Nesselrode shooed them away and regarded the mess unhappily.
“Are they your creations, too?” she asked.
“Oh, yes,” he admitted. “They’re terribly naughty, I’m afraid.”
“Can’t you do anything about it?”
“Not really,” he said with a sigh. “All my creations have some measure of independence once I’ve made them. The marmosets have a bit more than one might prefer.”
Ms. Mare surveyed the rest of the kitchen. The sink was piled high with dirty dishes, although a few clean ones in the drainer testified to a half-hearted attempt to tackle them. The stove was caked thick with burnt spills. Every surface was yellow with grease and every knob and handle was dark with fingerprints. She shuddered to think what horrors awaited her behind the grime-bespotted door of the refrigerator.
The floor hadn’t been cleaned in weeks, perhaps months. Perhaps years. She peered into the dining room and the living room. There were broken dishes on the hutch. The windows were grimy and the curtains were soiled; on the sills were sadly overgrown and under-watered potted plants covered with brown leaves and dead branches. The corners of every room were thick with cobwebs and every unused surface was covered with dust.
“Dear, me,” she murmured in dismay.
“I hope you don’t find it all too, ah, daunting,” her prospective employer said.
She took a deep breath–which made her want to cough; the place was in dire need of airing out–pulled up her sleeves and folded her arms across her chest. “There is no task,” she declared, “that I am not equal to, given sufficient time and resources.” She turned to face him. “Where am I to stay?”
“Ah,” he said eagerly, “you should find your room quite pleasant. Heron and I worked hard to get it ready.”
“Yes. You’ll be meeting her presently. She’s a bit stern, but don’t let her intimidate you.”
“I am not easily intimidated, Mr. Nesselrode.”
“So I see. Well, this way. Mind the starfish.”
“Starfish?” Sure enough, there was a enormous starfish in the middle of the hallway, a sort of cinnamon gold color with blue spots along the ridge of each arm. It was as big around as a good-sized throw rug and high as a hassock. “Starfish,” she confirmed aloud to herself, eying it warily as she circumambulated it. It made no threatening gestures.
On the table in the hallway sat a long-haired, orange and white cat who stood up, stretched, and jumped into the artist’s arms as he walked by. It climbed up onto his shoulder, purring.
“Is that one of your creations, too?”
“Oh, no!” he laughed. “Madam Beast is just an ordinary cat.” He stroked her head. “Forgive me, my lovely. I shouldn’t call you ordinary, should I? No. You are hardly ordinary, are you?” He started up the stairs. “I have seven cats at the moment. All acquired in quite the normal way. Strays. They wandered in and made themselves at home. My basilisk didn’t prevent their entry. In fact, I rather suspect she encouraged them. She’s fond of cats. She got that from me, I suppose. On the other hand, the Bishop dislikes them. He spends most of his time in the silver teapot on the dining room table, contemplating the Divine nature or some such thing. But he insists on blessing all the meals. He comes out of the teapot, muttering Latin, and everyone must put down their forks. The cats ignore him, of course. That annoys the Bishop to no end. But you simply can’t tell a cat what to do. Not even if you are a bishop. Cats are thoroughly Pagan creatures.”
“Yes, of course,” Ms. Mare replied as she threaded her way carefully up the stairs, which were piled high with stacks of envelopes and papers. “What is all this?” she asked, catching a tower which started to fall when she brushed against it.
“Oh, mail mostly,” he said cheerfully. “Don’t worry, it’s not important. Frank Shekle’s office takes care of the important things, and disposes of the disturbing matters. He sends the rest to me. Dreadfully dull, most of it. Copies of documents, accounts, nonsense. Letters from people I don’t know. I’m not sure quite what to do with it.”
“One generally either files it away or throws it out,” Ms. Mare said.
“Oh. Yes. I suppose one would.” The notion had evidently never occurred to him.