Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review: The Cabinet of Wonders

The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski
The Kronos Chronicles Book One
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux, Squarefish edition, 2008
257 pages

Goodreads Description:
Petra Kronos has a simple, happy life. But its never been ordinary. She has a pet tin spider named Astrophil who likes to hid in her snarled hair and give her advice. Her best friend can trap lightning inside a glass sphere. Petra also has a gather in faraway Prague who is able to move metal with his mid. He has been commissioned by the prince of Bohemia to build the world's finest astronomical clock. Petra's life is forever changed when, one day, her father returns home - blind. The prince has stolen his eyes, enchanted them, and now wears them. But why? Petra doesn't know, but she knows this: she will go to Prague, sneak into Salamander Castle, and steal her father's eyes back. Joining forces with Neel, whose fingers extend into invisible ghosts that pick locks and pockets, Petra finds that many people in the castle are not what they seem, and that her father's clock has powers capable of destroying their world.

My Review:
Marie Rutkoski deserves an award for this book! It is a beautifully written tale about a young girl on a quest, but also about the unfolding of the protagonist's coming of age. 

The characters were all well crafted and meaningful. I especially loved Petra's sidekick, Astrophil, a tin spider that hides in her hair. Petra, the hero of this tale, is admirably brave, and yet she displays a childhood ignorance, which, if I may argue, is the true obstacle she faces. Petra models the intended audience of this novel; she is young, small, yet has an enormous passion for her friends and family. She faces many disadvantages in her class, gender, age, and even her ethnicity. She has noticeable character flaws as well as admirable attributes, making her an ideal protagonist for a middle-level read. 
Her friends, Neel and Sadie, were wonderful supporting characters. Neel especially was often wrapped in mystery and readers, as well as Petra, were uncertain how useful or trustworthy he would become. Overall, I thought the characters were brilliant. They were well-rounded and unique, making them friends I wish were real. 

The novel begins slowly and picks up the pace further into the novel. It is a savory read and readers can feel the slow tension at the beginning and the wild unraveling towards the end. The story, set in Bohemia, is a liminal fantasy about adventure for adolescents. The historical accuracy makes this a highly recommended book. Readers can get a sense of the European Renaissance during the Hapsburg Empire through an entertaining read. 

Furthermore, I love the themes of this novel and how they are played out. Themes of human nature, power, bravery , and self-discovery have been written about for ages, but Rutkoski builds them up in this lovely tale. Petra, along with her family and new found friends, both create and overcome challenges. Why does Petra feel the need to retrieve her father's eyes? Because of her love for her father, yes, but also because she believes she is capable of doing so. It is this mentality that creates her first challenge - the human condition to pursue what may be impossible or dangerous. My favorite revelation was from the character John Dee; He reminds Petra that she "does not see much beyond a horizon of yellow hills and [her] petty familial problems." This is the wisdom Petra needed to hear and summarizes her real dilemma. The story engages readers in Petra's changing world. From a third voice point of view, readers understand the spiral that Petra lives in and her limited vision because of it. 

This is an excellent read for middle-level readers, but I enjoyed this as much now as I might have at age twelve. It's an entertaining read with wonderful, subtle reminders about the complexities of understanding and self-discovery. I give this a full five fantastic foxes.

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