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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 63.
- Review Date: 2008-08-18
- Reviewer: Staff
Add this heady mix of history and enchantment to the season's list of astonishingly accomplished first novels: in Rutkoski's multilayered version of late16th-century Bohemia, magicians coexist with peasants and courtiers, a tribe of gypsies use specially endowed ghost fingers, and the fate of Europe hangs on the schemes of an evil prince. As the novel opens, a metalworker with extraordinary gifts has returned from Prince Rodolfo's palace in Prague, having finished his commission to build a magical clockbut the prince has gouged out his eyes, so that he can never duplicate the clock or, worse, better it. Even more disturbingly, the prince wears the eyes himself. Vowing to recover her father's eyes, 12-year-old Petra sneaks off to Prague, with little more than the company of Astrophil, an erudite tin spider who can communicate with her. Proving herself a worthy relative of, say, Philip Pullman's quick-thinking, fearless heroines, Petra navigates her way past sorceress countesses, English spy magicians, dangerous gypsies and through bewitched palace halls until Rodolfo, wearing the ill-gotten eyes, catches sight of her. Infusions of folklore (and Rutkoski's embellishments of them) don't slow the fast plot but more deeply entrance readers.
In this fantasy, the eyes have it
Peculiar magic, royal adventures and Bohemian intrigue dominate the pages of The Cabinet of Wonders, Marie Rutkoski's debut children's novel and the first installment of her new series, The Kronos Chronicles. Rutkoski offers an imaginative look at the Early Modern era with a cast that features the inquisitive Kronos family and their army of tin pets, gypsy friends with curiously magical talents and one chillingly ambitious Hapsburg prince.
Magic is a luxury reserved for the elite in Bohemia, but a few artisans such as Mikal Kronos have managed to develop their abilities without schooling. Petra Kronos envies the magical abilities of her father, a local metalworker who uses invisible tools, builds objects with his mind and gives life to an amusing menagerie of metal animals. But after the ruthless Prince Rodolfo commissions Mikal to build the grandest astronomical clock in history, he returns to his daughter without reimbursement and without a pair of eyes. After learning of the clock's destructive powers, Petra escapes to Prague with the goal of recapturing her father's eyes and destroying his creation.
Slaving for weeks on end in the bowels of the castle as a dye worker, Petra uses patience and some plucky exploits to lead her into the acquaintance of Rodolfo. In his inner chambers she discovers the Cabinet of Wonders, a curious collection of magical artifacts, as well as the holding cell for her father's eyes, which the prince wears to harness Kronos' powers. Petra's success is greatly owed to clever characters like Neel, a gypsy boy with invisible finger extensions perfect for lock picking, and friend Tomik, who can trap floods and lightning into tiny glass marbles. In this adventure, however, the sidekick steals the show. Hiding in Petra's gnarled hair is her pet tin spider Astrophil, an amusing travel companion whose appetite for books and distaste for brazen heroics make him the best fictional spider since E.B. White's Charlotte.
Though Rutkoski wraps up her magical tale beautifully, her lovable cast and intriguing scenarios are certain to bring readers back for a second round in The Kronos Chronicles. How else will readers retrieve the contents in that curious Cabinet of Wonders?