The Cabinet of Wonders


Marie Rutkoski


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

May 22, 2009

he Cabinet of Wonders is an excellent "young adult" story. It is officially set in the 17th century Renaissance in Eastern Europe, but other than the bearing the names Prague and Hapsburg Empire, this is a wholly created fantasy land. There is magic all over Rutkoski's version of Eastern Europe, and that's a good thing, because the magic is inventive and creative. Certain people are "sparks" - they have various magical skills.

It seems everyone has some kind of magic power. Tomik has been storing magic into glass bottles, Neel has extra long magic fingers that allow him to be the ultimate pickpocket, Jarek can talk to animals, etc. One nice touch is that the magic isn't always beneficial - Iris the Dye-maker excretes burning acid whenever she gets upset, dissolving all her clothes and furniture, etc. Petra herself has a gift of magical metal working, and she can talk silently with her mechanical friend, a metal spider named Astrophil who was constructed by her father. Astrophil serves as an advisor, dispensing wisdom and sometimes helping Petra out of a jam. There are hints that Petra might be an especially gifted "spark", but that plot point isn't developed too much in this book.

The story begins when Petra's father is brought home by two of the soldiers who work for the evil Prince Rodolfo. Her father has constructed a magical clock in Prague. The clock does more than tell time, it also will allow the user to control the weather - which of course would give the evil Prince the ability to dominate the world. As a reward for his marvelous construction, her father had his eyes gouged out by the Prince so that he would never be able to construct another clock for anyone else. However, in a rather unlikely plot point, the Prince had his eyes stolen before the clock was completely finished, because the Prince wanted to complete the clock himself. I said that her father's eyes were stolen, because unlike our world, it seems that eyes are interchangable, like marbles. Pop someone else's eyes into your head, and you can see things as they saw the world. The prince wears Petra's father's eyes when he is working on all the magical items in this Cabinet of Wonders.

Petra decides she will go to Prague and steal her father's eyes back from the Prince. So she disguises herself as a boy, and convinces some friends to get her to Prague. Her plan develops as she goes along. First, she will have to get to the castle. Then she will have to find out where the Prince stores the magic eyes, etc. I like the many magical items and the characters Petra meets along the way. It's an exciting story, I think it would be popular with the young reader target audience.

Only a couple of details in this story didn't seem quite right to me. At the end of the story, when Petra is trying to flee, suddenly there are plenty of people who are willing to help. I understand why one of the people was willing to help, but I didn't like the fact that there multiple instances of people giving Petra the aid she needed. I also didn't like the epilogue - isn't the Prince searching for them immediately? Shouldn't Petra's family be fleeing? The book is subtitled The Kronos Chronicles - Book 1, so apparently Rutkoski intends there to be future volumes in Petra's story, but at the time of this writing nothing else is shown on the Amazon.com website.

This book reminds me a lot of Phil Foglio's Girl Genius comics - people with magic ability are called sparks, it seems to be set in the Renaissance era, there is a lots of magical machines, and the heroine is a marvelous inventor with machines and metal. The first comic is in black and white, but all the subsequent volumes are in color. My library has all the volumes. Click here for Girl Genius link