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? Copyright 2008 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2009 Spring
Petra Kronos's father has magical abilities to construct creatures out of tin and to make a wondrous weather-controlling clock. When the prince of Bohemia blinds Kronos, cutting out his eyes and magicking them for his own use, Petra resolves to steal them back from the prince's Cabinet of Wonders. Rutkoski's bucolic old-world atmosphere keeps her workmanlike plotting feeling fresh and fortuitous. Copyright 2009 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2009 #1
Petra Kronos's father has a magical ability to construct creatures, like her spider Astrophil, out of tin, and to make a wondrous Staro Clock that can control the weather for Prince Rodolpho, ruler of Bohemia. But the prince blinds Kronos, cutting out his eyes and magicking them for his own use. When Petra resolves to steal back her father's eyes, she befriends a Roma boy, Neel, whose connections get her a job in Rodolpho's palace, where the eyes are kept in his Cabinet of Wonders. Matters get complicated when the English ambassador John Dee ensorcels Petra and makes her his pawn in a pan-European power struggle. Dee wants the Staro Clock destroyed before Rodolpho can use it to terrorize other countries via their weather -- is Petra enough her father's daughter to discern the secret of the clock's metallic heart? And will Petra and Neel trust each other enough to work together? Rutkoski makes good use of her bucolic Eastern European setting touched with magic; the old-world atmosphere keeps her workmanlike, slightly mechanical plotting feeling fresh and fortuitous. At book's end, Petra and her father are reunited but are hardly safe from Rodolpho's vengeance, the setup for the next Kronos Chronicles installment. Copyright 2009 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2008 July #2
A refreshingly different fantasy premise falls to pedestrian plotting. Twelve-year-old Petra admires her father's magical talent for mechanical invention, but when he is blinded after crafting a clock for the Prince of Bohemia, she is as outraged by his resigned acceptance as by his mutilation. She runs off to Prague to steal back her father's eyes, now bespelled for the Prince to wear. Assisted by the erudite tin spider Astrophil and the Gypsy boy Neel, Petra braves both the wonders and injustices of palace life to learn that the marvelous clock threatens the stability of all Europe. The fantastical alternative-Renaissance setting provides imaginative charm, and intrepid Petra is a resourceful, if self-centered, heroine. Alas, her quest plods along without suspense, relying on random encounters and convenient revelations. Despite occasional intriguing glimpses of magic in action, there is no sense of a coherent system. The tone veers irritatingly from fairy-tale adventure to unpleasant grimness to arch narrative asides, and erratic shifts in point of view add to the confusion. Disappointing. (Fantasy. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus 2008 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2008 August #3
Add this heady mix of history and enchantment to the season's list of astonishingly accomplished first novels: in Rutkowski's multilayered version of late-16th-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 clock--but 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 Rutkowski's embellishments of them) don't slow the fast plot but more deeply entrance readers. Ages 10-up. (Aug.)[Page 63]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Gr 5-8-- Set in an altered European Renaissance, this book succeeds in creating an interesting new fantasy world. Twelve-year-old Petra Kronos is shocked when her father is returned to their village without his eyes. The young Prince of Bohemia had commissioned Mikhail Kronos, who has a magical gift with metal and machines, to create a magnificent clock. Before its completion, however, the prince had the artisan's eyes removed, hoping to use their magical qualities, along with the clock, to gain control of the Hapsburg Empire and possibly the world. Petra, along with her well-read tin spider, Astrophil, sneaks off to Prague in order to get the eyes back. With help from a Roma boy, Neel, and his sister, Petra gets a job at the castle and is one step closer to retrieving her father's eyes and preventing the prince from misusing the clock's power. Her adventures also lead her to discover more of her own abilities, magical and otherwise. The novel is well paced and contains a number of intriguing characters. This is a solid fantasy that finishes its story but leaves the door open for further episodes. An author's note explains the historical basis for certain aspects of the book, including the Roma, the prince's cabinet of wonders, and John Dee, advisor to Queen Elizabeth. For those who like their fantasy with a splash of history, or their history with a twist of magic, this book is ideal.--Amanda Raklovits, Champaign Public Library, IL[Page 158]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.