The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski
In the village of Okno everyone has their own talent, their own magic… and Petra Kronos’ family has always been good with manipulating metal with their minds. When her father, Mikal, gets hired by the reigning Prince of Prague, Rodolfo, to build a magnificent astronomical clock he returns home broken spirited and irrevocably wounded. The Prince has removed her father’s silver eyes and Petra has vowed to get them back for him. Between talking tin spiders and clockwork animals, Worry Vials, gypsy thieves and half gypsy maids, ghostly fingers, acid-sweating dye mistresses producing new primary colours, politics of palaces (and palace kitchen) lives, lightning catching best friends, rainstorms that rain grains of sand, and shearing off all of your hair for disguises… Petra certainly has herself quite an adventure in this charming, peerless, and simply stellar debut novel by the masterful Marie Rutkoski.
This book needs to be read like a recipe in order to make an kind of sense, because it has so many complicated ingredients to it. Take a touch of Philip Pullman for darkness, throw in a smidge of JK Rowling for magic, stir in some Diana Wynne Jones for whimsy, and top it off with a bit of L. Frank Baum for colour and you have some idea of what Rutkoski has concocted… in fact much of the tone and spectacle of this book is so Oz-ian in execution it’s uncanny, but still maintains much of its own unique flavour. Prince Rodolfo puts me in mind of Baum’s Nome King with his megalomaniacal ways and his habits of acquiring trinkets that he displays in his secretive Cabinet of Wonders. But unlike the Nome King, who steals people and turns them into gimcracks for his own amusement, Rodolfo goes one step further… he steals PARTS of people for his own personal use… specifically Petra’s father’s eyes so that he may use the magic imbued within him for his own gain…once he removes his own eyes. Of course.
This book reads like a fairy tale, but quirks and veers like a Greek epic. How splendidly old-worldly of a tale is this, reinvented in a nonpareil language, yet echoing so many other masters? Bravo, Rutkoski. Bravo. You should be astounded with your talents. Not only have you have earned yourself a place on my walls with this inventive new series but in doing so have won a very faithful reader and bookseller. I look forward to many, many more of your creative brainchildren in the future. Spawn speedily and freely, oh fruitfully inventive one. Bring me sisters and brothers for Petra and Neel as fast as your body can produce them.
-Krys Tourtois, Eastwood Towne Center