The Cabinet of Wonders (Kronos Chronicles Trilogy Paperback – 2 Feb 2010
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"Readers . . . who enjoy literary fantasy are likely to savor Marie Rutkoski's debut novel, which was inspired by the grisly legend associated with the famous astronomical clock in Prague's Old Town Square." --"The Wall Street Journal
""Like Phillip Pullman's young Lyra, [Petra] matures in worlds more complex than she had imagined."""--"The Chicago Tribune"
* "Add this heady mix of history and enchantment to the season's list of astonishingly accomplished first novels. . . . [Petra] proves herself a worthy relative of, say Philip Pullman's quick-thinking, fearless heroines. . . . Infusions of folklore don't slow down the fast plot but more deeply entrance readers.""
"--"Publishers Weekly," starred review"
""Loved this book. Strong girl character. Fascinating alternate Bohemia world. Clever silhouette cover." --BOUND, MSN Entertainment Book Blog
"For those who like their fantasy with a splash of history, or their history with a twist of magic, this book is ideal." --"School Library Journal
"Fresh and fortuitous." --"The Horn Book
""Rutkoski poses searching questions about perception and judgment, and plants plenty of seeds for future installments, but this first novel of adventure, loyalty and familial love (not to mention magic) wraps up quite satisfyingly." --"Shelf Awareness
"""The Cabinet of Wonders" is just that--a book to get lost in, to be amazed and astonished by, to explore with curiosity and delight." --Books & Books, Miami, Florida
"Rutkoski's fantasy features quirky characters, imaginative world building, and a hint of trouble to come that will create demand for the next book in the planned Kronos Chronicles series." --"Booklist
""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." --"BookPage
""Rutkoski effectively uses the romance of the region and the mystique of gypsy legends to evoke an atmosphere of danger and adventure. Her well-crafted fantasy world is a mix of magic and technology . . . that, along with the thoroughly likeable characters, will quickly draw readers in and have them eagerly anticipating the next installment in the series." --"The Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books
""It was like a mix of "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings."" --A YALSA YA Galley Teen Reader
Readers . . . who enjoy literary fantasy are likely to savor Marie Rutkoski's debut novel, which was inspired by the grisly legend associated with the famous astronomical clock in Prague's Old Town Square. "The Wall Street Journal"
Like Phillip Pullman's young Lyra, [Petra] matures in worlds more complex than she had imagined. "The Chicago Tribune"
Add this heady mix of history and enchantment to the season s list of astonishingly accomplished first novels. . . . [Petra] proves herself a worthy relative of, say Philip Pullman s quick-thinking, fearless heroines. . . . Infusions of folklore don t slow down the fast plot but more deeply entrance readers. "Publishers Weekly, starred review"
Loved this book. Strong girl character. Fascinating alternate Bohemia world. Clever silhouette cover. "BOUND, MSN Entertainment Book Blog"
For those who like their fantasy with a splash of history, or their history with a twist of magic, this book is ideal. "School Library Journal"
Fresh and fortuitous. "The Horn Book"
Rutkoski poses searching questions about perception and judgment, and plants plenty of seeds for future installments, but this first novel of adventure, loyalty and familial love (not to mention magic) wraps up quite satisfyingly. "Shelf Awareness"
"The Cabinet of Wonders" is just that--a book to get lost in, to be amazed and astonished by, to explore with curiosity and delight. "Books & Books, Miami, Florida"
Rutkoski's fantasy features quirky characters, imaginative world building, and a hint of trouble to come that will create demand for the next book in the planned Kronos Chronicles series. "Booklist"
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. "BookPage"
Rutkoski effectively uses the romance of the region and the mystique of gypsy legends to evoke an atmosphere of danger and adventure. Her well-crafted fantasy world is a mix of magic and technology . . . that, along with the thoroughly likeable characters, will quickly draw readers in and have them eagerly anticipating the next installment in the series. "The Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books"
It was like a mix of "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings." "A YALSA YA Galley Teen Reader"" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
MARIE RUTKOSKI is a professor of English literature at Brooklyn College. She specializes in Renaissance drama, children's literature, and creative writing. She lives in New York City. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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When they brought her father home with bloody bandages over his eyes, that's when Petra Kronos got good and mad. Her father was given a remarkable commission: construct a clock for the prince himself in Prague. But instead of showering her father with gifts and praise upon its completion, the prince plucks out his eyes so as to make them his own (and prevent her dad from creating anything quite as nice again). Yet the clock is more than it seems. With the potential to control the weather itself, the Prince knows full well how powerful he could be if he just managed to put together the final piece. Now Petra is determined to steal back her father's eyes before that happens, even if it means befriending the Roma, sneaking into the palace, helping a woman who can leak acid through her skin, and reluctantly working alongside the magician and spy John Dee. Fortunately she has her tin spider Astrophil by her side and a host of talents that even she has been unaware of until now.
One of the problems I've had with a lot of fantasy novels lately is just how bloody long they are. Blame Harry Potter, blame Twilight, blame whoever you like but the fact of the matter is that a lot of authors aren't taking the hint that sometimes your novel really doesn't have to be 300+ pages. Now let's take a gander at "The Cabinet of Wonders". Coming in at a trim 258 Rutkoski could have explained at length about everything from Petra's mother's death to the girl's experiences with her in-laws while her father was away. Instead we are plopped into the story midstream and Rutkoski has a clear enough sense of the story she's telling to fill the small background details along the way. The result is a story that moves at a quick clip but never hurries so quickly that you loose the plot's thread or get confused about where things are going. In spite of the fact that you are reading yet another book about a motherless daughter whose doting scientific father pays her little heed, this territory is still relatively new.
I was a bit partial to the writing too. Just because the author isn't indulging in ludicrous fripperies doesn't mean that she hasn't an ear for a keen description once in a while. Check out this quickie encapsulation of our heroine's eyes. "Petra's eyes were gray - or, to be more precise, they were silvery, like they each had been made with liquid metal anchored in a bright circle by a black center." More interesting still, Rutkoski sometimes makes the executive decision to switch point of view willy-nilly between Petra and someone near her. Interestingly enough, the person she does this with the most is the evil prince. Making the executive decision to enter the head of your villain is something we've been seeing a lot of in children's literature lately (see: The Underneath by Kathi Appelt) and is always a risk. You could go too far and confuse the reader with this change of personality. Rutkoski's transitions aren't as smooth as they could be, but they ultimately serve the tale she's telling and don't go so far as to hurt it or anything.
As the Author's Note at the end is careful to point out, the book takes place during the European Renaissance at the end of the sixteenth century in Bohemia, part of the Hapsburg Empire. In this note Ms. Rutkoski mentions that she was at first a little worried that people would take issue with the way in which she has "manhandled history". She has little to fear. Historical fiction is one thing. Pseudo-historical fantasy another altogether (though I'd be willing to debate with someone on this point). So while she may not be 100% accurate at all times I doubt anyone would demand it of her. In any case, she works in enough real details to give the book spice. I was particularly pleased with the moment when John Dee shows Petra a painting of Queen Elizabeth that shows her wearing a yellow dress covered in eyes and ears. It sounds like just another fantastical idea on the page, but the actual image (known as The Rainbow Portrait) is rather famous and well worth searching out.
Let's talk gypsies. Over the years I've shuddered each and every time I've seen them in a work of children's fiction. Gypsies are like fairies or elves to most authors. You just throw them into a plot and hope that they end up kidnapping kids/telling fortunes at some point. There's never any acknowledgment that there are real Gypsies in the world, nor any complexity to their characters. So it was that I was amazed at how careful Rutkoski was with her Gypsy (which is to say, Roma) characters. In her Author's Note she acknowledges their past and the fact that they are "certainly real". And when she uses them in the book, it's almost as if she's mocking those old literary tropes. A Roma woman does indeed offer to tell Petra her future but when the girl politely refuses it's seen as the correct action. What's more, I loved how Neel would work Roma stories into the narrative alongside concepts like the "idea of zero". There's a lot going on here, and it's handled with evident care.
There isn't exactly a lack of child-friendly fantasies out there, sure. But we've finally gotten to the point where the Harry Potter wannabes have slacked off a little, leaving room for other kinds of series. And as for fantasies written with the 9-12 year-olds in mind, "The Cabinet of Wonders" is joining books like Savvy and Out of the Wild to entertain our slightly younger readers. With enough originality to choke a nag, Rutkoski firmly establishes herself as a new author to watch. I'll keep an eye eagerly peeled for her future books.
The book is set near the end of the 16th century in quasi-historical Prague, capital of Bohemia and home to its ruler, young Prince Rodolpho, one of three sons to the Hapsburg emperor. Rodolpho has recently commissioned the construction of a wondrous astronomical clock for Prague and the book opens up with the return home of the clock's builder--Mikal Kronos. This is one of those aforementioned grim moments, for Mikal's "reward" for completing the clock was having his eyes removed, ostensibly so he could never build anything so wondrous again, leaving the Prince with a one-of-a-kind marvel.
Mikal is welcomed home by his 12-year-old daughter Petra, who is of course horrified and furious at the Prince's action. Even more so when she learns that at the Prince's behest, Mikal (who like many in this world has a unique magical talent) has imbued the clock with powers well beyond simply telling time, powers that will be fully realized once the Prince manages to assemble the one part Mikal left undone. Wanting revenge for the Prince's cruelty and regained sight for her father, Petra decides to steal away to Prague and find some way to steal back her father's eyes.
She is accompanied by a mechanical spider named Astrophil (one of several "tin pets" her father has created) and then in Prague meets and befriends a young Roma thief named Neel, whose magical talent, "ghost fingers", just might come in handy. All three of these characters--Petra, Astrophil, and Neel--are appealing and are richly and concisely drawn, as is true about almost all the characters we meet, including Prince Rodolpho; his cousin Iris whose skin leaks acid and whom Petra works for in the castle; and John Dee, English spy and magician who has his own plans for Petra, the clock, and the Prince. All of these play a major role in the book, but minor characters aren't slighted in the characterization or plot departments--each feels like an individual and several play surprising roles.
The book moves along at a quick pace but we still get lots of rich detail when needed and lots of wonderfully original flights of imagination. It is a supremely efficient book, one that is concise and lean but never feels like it's glossing over things or leaving things out completely. In a field--fantasy--dominated by doorstopper books, most of which could have been cut by a quarter at least with no harm to the reading experience, it's a true pleasure to come across and author who can offer up so much so economically. And a tip of the hat as well for giving us a complete book, one that can stand alone but that also leaves room for the coming sequel.
As for flaws, there are a few points where things happen a bit too easily, and now and then there might be some clunky dialogue or exposition, but these are relatively rare occasions and are more than outweighed by Petra's sparkly appeal and the author's sense of invention. Enthusiastically recommended.
Author Marie Rutkoski starts with the city of Prague at the end of the sixteenth century, then adds a rich mix of magic. As if that weren't tricky enough to pull off, she goes on to mix the magic with technology. For example, in European fairy tale tradition, heroes running from enemies sometimes fling down magical combs and mirrors which turn into forests and lakes to block or at least slow the pursuit. In this book, an apprentice craftsman who is one of Petra's friends has trapped water and fire and even a wasp inside of small glass bubbles. The spells multiply their contents when thrown, creating a thoroughly satisfying effect during the key chase scene.
Petra's father has also invented a menagerie of mechanized magical animals--one of whom, a spider, accompanies Petra wherever she goes, offering counsel as well as companionship.
There are hints of adventures to come in the Kronos chronicles. We learn that Petra may someday attend the magic academy usually reserved for the children of nobility. In Rutkoski's Bohemia, the lower classes are not allowed to use magic, or at least not openly. If Petra does attend the Academy, I'm sure it will be just as fresh and intriguing as everything else in this author's world, with nary a hint of Hogwarts.
Most important, the characters are appealing and the plot hangs together. Petra and her friends make good heroes--her new friend the Gypsy boy, Neel, can extend his fingers to ghostly yet effective lengths, and the mysteries in his life will surely come up again in later books. Another notable character is the English ambassador, John Dee, who is suspiciously helpful, decidedly manipulative, and very much magical. Then again, he is trumped by Countess Iris, the castle dye-maker whose skin leaks acid. I especially liked Iris's quest to create a new primary color!
Prince Rudolfo is charming, ruthless, and undoubtedly insane. His power and his calm violence combine with a cheery intellectual curiosity to make him more unnerving and nuanced than the average fantasy villain. The enchanted sentries that compose the door to Rudolfo's chambers and the seven doors within those chambers are among the book's many captivating details. Petra must not only steal back her father's eyes--which the prince often wears (ulp, to see beauty with!)--she must also stop the prince from using her father's magical clock to wreak havoc across Europe.
I very much appreciate the way this book ends--that is to say, solidly, despite the possibilities planted for future volumes. And Rutkoski nails human nature with Mikal's response to his wayward daughter's dangerous escapades.
Like Shannon Hale's recent literary journey to Mongolia, this book set in a magical version of Renaissance Bohemia is a worthy contender for the Not-Just-Another-British-Fantasy prize. I suggest you open the door of The Cabinet of Wonders!
There is just so much here that resonated with my own interests: Prague as the 16th century capital of alchemy, kabbalah, and hermetic arts; the old Empire and the Hapsburgs; Dr. John Dee; the Roma and cant; etc. Yet, do not think that it is a mere encyclopedia of historical, or quasi-historical trivia, for the character developement could hardly be better. You care about these people from the start.
I'm sure some might be disturbed by the early occurence of a man's eyes being cut from his sockets, but if you reflect, this really isn't any more bloody than many of the events in the tales told by the brothers Grimm. In fact, there is enough unpleasant realism woven into this story to keep it from becoming a sugar-sweet fantasy- chamber pots being emptied into the streets, bed bugs, corrupt cops, political intrigue, etc. Yet, this isn't our world for magic and mechanics exist side by side.
I know that this book is subtitled as the first of the KRONOS CHRONICLES but it could easily stand on its own. I do not think that it is a spoiler to state that it has a most satisfying ending and there is no insufferable cliff hanger to make you feel cheated if you miss the next book. Yet, you will most definately want to continue on to the next book when it appears. A most enjoyable little gem.
Traveling to Prague she encounters many things along the way. But she stays the course, knowing that only certain death will prevent her from attaining her goal.
This is a great start to a new series. I absolutely adored it, and look forward to more in the future.
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