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The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski
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The Cabinet of Wonders (2008)

by Marie Rutkoski

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Ok, now that was fun. Really, really fun.

Ever since I realized that the author of The Winner’s Curse wrote this trilogy that I’ve been eyeing for weeks, my need to read it increased tenfold. And it didn’t disappoint!

Cabinet has a little bit of everything – traveling, science, art, magic, political intrigue. Rutkoski has this way of merging all of these together in a fascinatingly rich plot, and centers it really well around a single character --- Petra. Her single-minded need to find her father’s eyes (Also, sidenote: the prince stole her father’s eyes. As in, he had them gouged out. And then he took them.) really anchors all of the different fragments of this world well. And what fragments!! The completion of a clock that could potentially control the weather, the invention of a new primary color, the ability to speak to and liven metal, paint that erases one’s existence, stories of Romany who could talk to elephants and horses and trained ghost fingers…the imagination that takes flight in this novel is really, absolutely breathtaking!

And, yeah. The prince stole her father’s EYES. Petra in some ways is difficult to jive with, given that she is simply a conduit through which the story moves forward. Her qualities are very typical: brave, slightly rebellious, responsible, smart, with a dash of impatience. There’s nothing about her personality that stands out, that makes her different than dozens of other heroines in dozens of other novels everywhere. But, the secondary characters, like the prince (he took somebody’s eyes, for gods sake!) and John Dee, who introduces a fascinating element of international court intrigue into the mix, and of course Neel, with fascinating fables, make the story nice and lively.

This is one of those books where it’s the world and the plot that make it a compelling, irresistible read. On to the next one! ( )
  srsharms | Jul 20, 2017 |
When Petra's father, Mikal, returns from six months in Prague working for the prince, it's not quite the homecomming she had imagined. He'd just finished building a remarkable clock for Prince Rodolfo, when the prince had his eyes removed, which he kept for himself. Petra may be only 12 years old, but she determines to go and steal the eyes back, leaving without much of a plan but taking her pet tin spider, Astrophil, who was made by her father. Once in Prague she quickly befriends a young Roma (Gypsy) boy, Neel, who helps her get a job in the castle. She also learns that her father didn't finish one part of the amazing clock, a part which would allow the Prince to control the weather, a part which must be destroyed. By a stroke of luck she lands a job in the Dye Works working for Iris, the feared woman who drips acid from her skin, but it gives her access to some parts of the castle. But she'll need more than just luck to get past the guards and other obstacles between her and her father's eyes.

I was quite surprised by this charming little book. Initially, I thought the story started rather slow, and the magic was confusing - not your ordinary wizards and spells we've all come to expect since Harry Potter. My 9 year old daughter had the same complaints, and almost quit reading. But before long Ms. Rutkoski casts her own spell that hooks the reader with something better than magic: Petra herself. She's a stubborn and independent little girl, but fiercely faithful and devoted to her father and friends, and you can't help falling for her and her impossible quest. Add in some other totally charming characters: her friend Tomik who helps her sneak away, Neel the Gypsy boy, and especially Astrophil the brainy little metal spider, and the story quickly sucks you in.

I really enjoyed reading this little book. It's not too long and stays on a level that the younger kids will enjoy. I also liked the way she worked a lot of real history into the story, and the way she portrayed the Gypsies. I look forward to the continuation of the series. ( )
  J.Green | Nov 22, 2016 |
This wondrous blend of history and imagination introduces us to Petra, a young girl who goes on a quest to recover her father's eyes, which have been stolen by the prince. Action, adventure, subtlety, and a main character you won't be able to forget. Fabulous! ( )
  Mrs_McGreevy | Nov 17, 2016 |
Engaging and smart enough, but I find I don't have much to say about it, and I suspect I'll forget it fairly quickly.  I didn't feel a connection to any of the characters (except maybe the Dye-maker Iris), and the boy who captured lightning in a bottle.  I did like the idea of Worry Vials and of a sentient pet tin spider.  I did like how magic is incorporated into an historical world.  It was just a little too light for me, and I don't care enough to look for sequels. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
When Petra's father comes home with his silver eyes gone, she is stunned and furious. Her father's eyes that had made such wondrous things, eyes that could see more than any other person could - to see how things fit together and be taken apart. And she decides to go take them back from the king's Cabinet of Wonders.

This is a children's book reminiscent of a steam punk fairy tale. There are crafted spiders that speak and click metal legs. But there is the adventure and the quest and the magic and the girl who dares to save her father.

It is a good book, but I am a little too old to enjoy this anymore, I think. When children go running off on quests without thinking things through, I am always just shaking my head and thinking of how things would go (even if there are such things as women who can secrete poison from their skin and create new primary colors).

Things fell in place a little neatly for me to enjoy this book as well. It was sweat and tears and cunning that led to the climax, but luck and fortune and the right characters at the right place that just happened to want to help Petra.

I suppose the later books might explain a couple of things, and this book really does have a good premise, but I am not enthralled or drawn into this book enough to want to read the sequel. Good, but not great.

Three stars. Would recommend to a younger demographic that likes fantasy and magic. ( )
  NineLarks | Sep 15, 2014 |
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This book is dedicated to my parents, Robert and Marilyn Rutkoski, and my husband, Thomas Philippon.
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The yellows hills rose and fell in sunny tops and valleys. - Prologue
Earlier that morning, Petra Kronos had woken up to the tick, tick, tick of metal.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374310262, Hardcover)

Petra Kronos has a simple, happy life. But it’s never been ordinary. She has a pet tin spider named Astrophil who likes to hide in her snarled hair and give her advice. Her best friend can trap lightning inside a glass sphere. Petra also has a father in faraway Prague who is able to move metal with his mind. 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.
 
This startling debut novel, about the risks we take to protect those we love, brims with magic, political intrigue, and heroism.
 
The Cabinet of Wonders is a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:43 -0400)

Twelve-year-old Petra, accompanied by her magical tin spider, goes to Prague hoping to retrieve the enchanted eyes the Prince of Bohemia took from her father, and is aided in her quest by a Roma boy and his sister.

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