Discover the Crystal Palace with Maggie Secara

I'm thrilled to welcome back historical fantasy author, Maggie Secara. She has just released the second part in her fabulous Harper Errant trilogy, King's Raven

A colourful adventure, King's Raven takes you from present day Dartmoor to Elizabethan England to the Crystal Palace in Victorian London during its heyday where ancient magick meets science. 

Discover the Crystal Palace with Maggie:

The World for a Shilling
Maggie Secara

The Crystal Palace, in which my characters Ben and Raven find themselves in 1854, was originally raised in all its industrial glory for the Great Exhibition of 1851, celebrating the Industry of All Nations and particularly of England. Admission, most days, was a single silver shilling, well within the scope of even ordinary working people. Sponsored by Prince Albert, designed by the Duke of Devonshire's gardener almost literally overnight, it was meant to last only a summer, and so it did. But such an extraordinary testament to British industry—and, oh yes, the rest of the world’s too—could not simply disappear, the mayfly of a nation’s whimsy. Besides, the fabulous structure of iron and glass was pre-fabricated, modular; it was designed to be set up, taken down, packed, unpacked, removed, and so on until, perhaps, the end of time. 
And so it was. Well, just the once. 

After that one brilliant summer, from June to October, the public and even the press—which had mocked it so mercilessly in the beginning—wanted it to stand, but contracts had been signed and assurances given. When it came down in November, plans were already afoot to do it all again, using the existing frames and panels. Only this time it would be Bigger, Better, and altogether in the Spirit of Empire that made the British heart swell with pride. A wonderful site with excellent views was located on an estate on the other side of the Thames. 
They added extra transepts and lofty galleries, a “winter garden” and over time added even more expansive gardens, fountains, and a pack of concrete dinosaurs around a man-made lake. And when it re-opened on Sydenham Hill in the summer of 1854, it was indeed bigger and better. It was also massively adaptable. It would at various times be used as a concert hall, flower show venue, gallery, and one year even hosted a circus. 
In 1854, however, in which Ben and Raven lead their pursuers such a merry chase was designed as a kind of museum, an “illustrated encyclopedia”. The Committee had made arrangements to send artists and craftsmen around the world to make perfect copies of some of the greatest and most famous artworks in history. The place would up seriously stacked with statuary. 
The main floor was divided in half along it’s length by a wide corridor they called the nave and transected in the middle and quarter points by transepts. Yes, just like a cathedral. On the north end they put the Artistic Courts, also called the Architectural Courts: each one a walk through full size rooms and smaller vestibules filled with the (copied) relics of the Great Ages of Man. One one side Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, an avenue of sphinxes leading to a 6-story mockup of a “restored:” the Lion Court of the Alhambra, the giant man-headed bulls of Nineveh. Then crossing the Nave around the massive Monti Fountains, one could walk through the Byzantine and Romanesque, Medieval, Renaissance, Irish, and Elizabethan ending in the Italian Court with its fabulous façade taken from the Farnese Palace.
Across the Great Transept past more famous classical statues and monuments to famous men of the age (most of whose names are utterly meaningless to most of us now) the mood changed completely as you crossed into the Industrial Courts. The right hand course took you through the great works of the modern world: Birmingham, Sheffield, and Stationery court sat opposite the Court of Musical Instruments, another of Ceramics and Glass.
At the end by the 25-foot high fountain of pink frosted glass, they put, curiously, a detailed mockup of a nobleman’s house from the ancient city of Pompeii.
Shops and commercial enterprises of various kinds behind the Courts sold furniture, carpets, ceramics, and housewares. In the gallery above, known as the Bazaar. it was a little like main street at Disneyland, selling perfumery, leather, firearms, surgical instruments, items made of India rubber and gutta percha— samples of the wonders on display below. You could even get completely outfitted for a safari. Plus, of course, a million kinds of souvenirs. The basement level featured full working models of machines like the McCormack reapers, sewing machines, carriages, even railroad engines, and unlike the original Crystal. Palace, this time there were were also working salesmen with order books.

The Crystal Palace was an extraordinary place, a monument in glass and iron to the Victorians’ vision of themselves and their place in the world. When fire destroyed the winter garden and Nineveh Court in 1865, that section was cleared away and never restored, but the Crystal Palace went on. It survived through many uses and incarnations until it was finally razed to the ground in 1936 by a fire of unknown origins. Only the water towers remained, and those were finally ordered demolished to keep them from being used as siting markers by Nazi bombers. All that’s left now is a few terraces, the dinosaurs, and the head of Sir Joseph Paxton, the Duke of Devonshire’s gardener.
There was, as you might expect, a terrible temptation when writing King’s Raven to spend too much time rhapsodizing over the wonders of the location. At one point I had to remind myself that I was building a chase scene, not narrating a travelog, and find other ways to describe the Palace without slowing down the story. I think Ben and Raven manage to notice and more importantly use enough of it to be interesting before they... well, you’ll see.

Blurb for King's Raven:

The heart of Faerie is the heart of the world.

While Oberon, immortal king of Faerie, lies under a terrible curse, the artistic spirit in the world is slipping away. The King's Raven would do anything to lift the spell, if only it hadn’t also stripped him of his magic and flung him into an iron-bound past with a damaged memory.

The only thing that can save them both is sealed inside a riddle wrapped in a puzzle that spans the centuries. Even with the help of an Elizabethan magus, a Victorian spinster, and a mad reporter, can mortal musician Ben Harper find Raven in time to solve the riddle, stop a witch, and restore the creative heart of the world?

First, he’ll have to find the key.


  1. The Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, Hyde Park, 1851 

There is little doubt that the exhibitor is a man of ingenious mind and much industry but unfortunately he represents a class of men who venture to invent while yet in perfect ignorance of the truths which investigation has placed beyond all doubts
—Hunt’s Handbook to the Official Catalogs, 1851

Ye gods! Steam pressure was dropping! The experiment failing! Again! Voltaic energy fluctuating wildly, the Great Device rocked and trembled on its platform, but the vast black mirror that was its inscrutable face persisted dark even while sparks exploded from everywhere else. Something was banging that should not be banging. 
“What is it?” cried Professor Lovejoy, whose machine it was. “Newton’s wig! What is it now?” 
Beneath the old scientist’s boots the wooden platform that supported the Great Device shivered and warped. The world dropped out from under him, then spun him off in another direction to carom painfully off the protective rails and fall among the cluttered work tables and stools. A shin slammed into a bench covered with arcane tools. Dizzy, lights dancing in his head like fireflies, his hands flew up too late to keep him from slamming into the heavy desk, slewing through a litter of papers and notebooks; he barked a startled oath, quickly stifled. At least he hadn’t fallen to the exhibition floor, and he was facing the right way round, away from the snapping and clanging at the other end of the platform, 
He rubbed unconsciously at one ancient hip, while with the other, steadier hand he plucked the horn-shaped end of a speaking tube out of its hanger and shouted to the man in the steam room below. 
“What the devil is the matter with you, Murphy! Can you not hold the pressure steady for five minutes? Five... The pressure, man! What’s that? Yes, you idiot, what else?” 
No time to wait for a reply, certainly not. Not while everything was flying apart. “Damned Irishman.” He flung the horn in the general direction of the hook, and glared toward the control panel, watching for the arrow of the pressure gauge to steady. The banging stopped. 
What now, he wondered. What next? 
The Professor propped his spectacles on his forehead and ground sharp-boned knuckles into streaming eyes while the monitors wavered in and out of focus. Again he checked the madly spinning dials in the fitful light. Squinted and checked again. The light was abominable these days, for all the building was nothing but windows. The colored console lights, his own invention, which should be gleaming behind the artfully lettered tiles sputtered, flared, and went out. Lovejoy nearly wept in frustration for his fortune and his fame, his Great Device, his only care. 
“Cray!” he shouted above the din. Where was that wretched boy, what was he doing, was he asleep? 
A dark head emerged from the crawl space under the platform, then a swarthy face suffused with vexation and sweat. Then shoulders in a streaked and stained lab coat. Finally, spanner in hand, Ambrose Cray appeared, not a boy but a trim man in his thirties with a waxed mustache and a furious expression. 
Professor Lovejoy snapped at his assistant, “What are you doing down there, blast you? Stop tampering! Are you trying to ruin everything? Well? Well? Newton’s wig! I can’t be everywhere at once!”
His own wrinkled lab coat flapping, grey hair floating cloudlike round his ruthlessly shaved face, the old scientist clambered over and swung around and ducked under this cable and that canister, tripped over three copper coils that somehow tumbled into his path when a curious fold in the cosmos—or perhaps just the threadbare carpet—suddenly rippled under his feet. After two years with the dratted fellow—a failed schoolteacher from Sheffield, for god’s sake—he should know better than to trust Cray with his jewel, his genius, his Great Device. 
“Seventy-eight, I said!” Lovejoy barked, and cranked a dial, set a switch, then pulled a lever. 
“I set it to 78, you old fool,” muttered Cray, unappreciated and unheard under the crashes and bangs. “Now, look what you’ve— Damn!” 
“No, no, no!” 
Between one denial and another, other sounds: a rustle of papers, a flutter of notebooks, the whir of a spinning gauge. An aura frail as a rainbow began just slightly to rise from every surface disguised as a directionless hum, a buzz that might be pens rattling, or loose bits of metal, silk thread, and reed.
Oblivious, Cray pitched forward, straining to reach the controls though his thoughts were weirdly scattered. If he could just get to the bend of... If he could blind the... What the devil?
In his confusion, he nearly put a foot over the velvet-roped edge of the platform and into the goggle-eyed crowd that had gathered, of course, the instant things began to go wrong. 
Things were always going wrong. It made Lovejoy and Cray the most popular exhibit on the ground floor, after the the flush toilets and the refreshments area. Explosions daily with iced cream! The crowd loved it.
The grey winter light from the domed ceiling far above began to curl and stretch through the spectrum, trapping the platform, the device, two frantic men in the moment as if in amber. The gaping audience, with one voice, released a moan like the wind soughing through a hollow stone. The thickened light wavered, broke, and scattered. The moment reasserted itself, but the Device continued coughing and straining, spitting smoke.
“Bastard,” Cray muttered. “I will tame you, I swear it. I will not be bested, not again!”
“Shut it down! Shut it down!” cried the Professor, waving his arms madly as smoke began to billow and curl. 
Gritting his teeth in a snarl like a prizefighter diving into the fray, Cray threw himself forward and, gaining the machine at last, slammed down a massive horseshoe switch to sever it from the power source. A row of colored lamps set into the panel winked like madly disordered stars, then went dark. Smoke rose with one last bang from under the panel. The platform heaved once and, with something like a sigh, relaxed from its extra-dimensional adventures, leaving nothing but shocked silence in the halls of the Great Exhibition. 
Exhausted, the Professor slumped into the richly padded velvet chair provided for the device’s operator. The crowd burst into mocking applause. He had long since learned to ignore them. They would thank him, one day. By the great Sir Isaac Newton, he swore the whole world would thank him! 

About the Author:

As a writer, I love to explore the heroic ideal, to find the mythical in the every day, and discover the places where the realms of Faerie intersect the mundane. As a historian, I'm basically a gossip who just can’t stand that someone might have done something 400 years ago without my knowing about it, including who else was there, what they had for dinner, and what they were wearing at the time. 
In 2011, Popinjay Press published Molly September, the romantic pirate adventure that has been plaguing me since college. Filed with adventure, humor and yes, romance, it's the perfect way to spend a few rainy days in the sunny Caribbean without leaving your armchair.
More recently, my interests in history, folklore, and music have combined in the Harper Errant fantasy series, of which The Dragon Ring was the first of many. The second adventure, King's Raven, is now available through Crooked Cat Publishing. 
Beyond that, I live with my very understanding husband and a pair of rescued cats in Los Angeles, California.

Author Links:

Buy Links:
Crooked Cat Books
Amazon US
Amazon UK


  1. Wow Maggie, this sounds fabulous, nice one. You must have done a whole heap of research and you don't even live in London -- very impressive. Wishing you many, many sales!

  2. Thanks, Cait! Yes, I've collected a good sized computer file full of notes on the Crystal Palace, not to mention a shelf full of books and other resources on Victorian London. In fact, I have another novel planned--outside the main Harper Errant series--in which the Crystal Palace is the main setting for a ghost story. Now if I can only find the time to finish it!


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