Goodreads: The Cabinet of Wonders
Series: The Kronos Chronicles #1
Official Summary: 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.
Review: Blending magic and history, The Cabinet of Wonders is a finely crafted middle grade adventure. It pits the protagonist’s heart and courage against the cold selfishness of her country’s prince, building a story that is alternately perilous and quirky.
Petra Kronos is a strong-willed protagonist who works to make the things she wants happen. She takes charge of her life, and is equally willing to use force, sneakiness, or reason to meet her goals. Knowing she faces danger and terrible odds for success, she argues eloquently against the adults who try to stop her why she, “just a child,” has the right for fight for her beliefs just as much as they. She might not always be correct, but her tenacity and determination to live up to her own moral code are admirable.
Various friends accompany Petra on her adventures, including Astrophil, a tin spider who alternately seems like his own person and an extension of Petra herself; Neel, a boy whose magic fingers can help her steal back her father’s eyes; and his sister, who wants to responsibly set them back on a straight and narrow path. None have particularly stand-out personalities that will bring them lasting fame in children’s literature, but all are fun to read about within the context of Petra’s world.
The characters do not encounter as much peril as one might expect from their actions—but that is typical in many middle grade books. However, Petra does face an unusual number of consequences for her actions, which brings an air of reality and gravity to the novel. If you are a reader who has always wondered, “Why aren’t the girl’s parents angry she ran away?” or “Won’t the boy’s supposed solution to this problem just bring everyone more trouble?” you will find answers here. The logic behind many of the plot elements is incredibly refreshing.
The Cabinet of Wonders is an imaginative book of adventures, with a hint of magic, that will appeal to fantasy quest fans. I personally will not be rushing headlong into reading the next one, but I would not mind another foray into Petra’s world eventually.