For months now, Petra's father has been in Prague. The Prince of Bohemia commissioned the master metalworker to create a very special astronomical clock for the town square. His return was not what Petra (12) expected. Her father was, literally, tossed onto the doorstep with his face wrapped in bloody bandages. Prince Rodolfo did not want to risk that Mikal would create another version of the again, so he removed the man's eyes. The prince has enchanted them, and now wears them.
Petra is beyond horrified - why would a prince do this? She is determined to get those eyes back! With the help of her mechanical pet spider Astrophil, her friend Tomik, and a few fibs, Petra secures a ride to Prague. Now what? She doesn't know the city or how to get into Salamander Castle. Enter Neel, a Roma pickpocket, whom Petra catches trying to steal her money. When they realize they can help each other, the two decide to work together to get into the castle.
Moving about the castle and its magical enchantments isn't easy and the consequences of getting caught mean death. Her family doesn't know where she is. Will she succeed and make it back to Oknos and her father?
I love the way magic is used in the story and how it unfolds. The story has an Old World feel to it that felt to me like a cross between Dickens and Pinocchio. Although Petra is the pivotal character, there are several relationships that have the dynamic of being quite realistic. Her apprenticeship with Mistress Iris in the Dye Works is especially worth noting. I also enjoyed Mikal's more realistic reaction to having his eyes returned. Petra could not have foreseen the "unintended consequences" of giving him his sight back, and this can make for some interesting discussions!
Neel and Sadie introduce Petra to Romany culture. The story is fictional, but I enjoyed learning more about Roma culture and Gypsies that weren't stereotypical or media-induced representations. Although Neel and Petra go their separate ways at the end, there are enough loose threads to suggest they will meet again. I hope so, and will definitely be looking for book 2.
While I understand the importance of contrasting good v. evil, I thought the cruelty and the detailed violence were more than what was necessary for readers in this audience. Overall, this is a rich, refreshing story, but those scenes could be unsettling.
Magic, fantasy, and very real friendships are the foundation of this well-paced adventure. Readers who love steampunk, stories that immerse you in realistic but different worlds, and strong (but flawed) characters will truly enjoy The Cabinet of Wonders.
Although not intensely gory, there are descriptions of bodily harm and violence (characters killed) that may make readers squeamish or uncomfortable.
This magical fantasy offers readers a glimpse into Olden Europe.
The fictional story is built around the legend of a very real astronomical clock in Prague, Czech Republic. Researching the clock and giving young readers a visual is an opportunity to engage them more closely to the story. Historically, cabinets of wonder did exist and this is also something else readers may find interesting.
Through her friendship with Neel and his sister Sadie, readers are also introduced to Romas (also known as gypsies). Another opportunity to learn about a different culture.
The story ends with something of a cliffhanger, suggesting that Petra's relationship with Tomik is changing. Ask readers what they think.
10 and Up
10 and Up
Borrow. For readers who love fantasy with a "historical fiction" flavor this is a buy.