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.
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Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
August 03, 2008
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Excerpt from The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski
The yellow hills rose and fell in sunny tops and valleys. The Bohemian countryside on this August morning looked almost like a golden ocean with huge, swelling waves.
A rickety cart was wending its way through a valley. Two men were perched atop the riding seat, watching the sturdy horse as it pulled them along. There was a bundle wrapped in cloth that took up most of the space in the open cart bed behind the men.
One of them, Jarek, held the reins. He coughed. "I should be paid extra for this," he said. "What a stench."
"What do you mean?" said Martin, Jarek's companion. He turned around to look at the bundle.
Jarek saw him do it. "No, not that. Those blasted brassica flowers. They stink fouler than a five-hundred-year-old outhouse."
"Oh, that," Martin replied. "They smell sweet to me."
The yellowness of the hills was caused by thousands of flowers, clustered and thick.
Jarek gagged. "I wouldn't like to be one of you hill people, working the flower fields. My clothes are going to smell rotten by the time we get back to Prague."
Too lazy to get offended, Martin leaned back in the cracked leather seat. "Many folks enjoy the smell of brassica. It's just one of those things you love or hate. Like eating asparagus."
"Raised with the stink as you were, I'm sure you're used to it."
"And remember"--Martin wagged a finger at him, pretending he had not heard Jarek's last comment--"Bohemia needs those flowers. Bet it'll be a good harvest this year. Soon the farmers will be out in the fields to collect the seeds and press them into oil. You can grumble like a goat about the scent, but that brassica's used for all sorts of things."
The horse took a turn in the dirt road and one of the cart wheels dipped into a large hole, jolting the cart.
The bundle in the back groaned.
"Here now!" Martin craned his neck to scowl at the dark shape. "None of that! You'll give us a bit of quiet." He made an impatient sound at the back of his throat. He took off his hat and fanned the sweat on his face. "It's very hot," he said, and sighed.
"Yeah," Jarek drawled, staring ahead.
"Good money, though, this trip."
"Hmm." Jarek flapped the reins. "We're almost there, anyway. Should take us about half an hour."
"What, have you been here before? I thought you never left Prague. How do you know this area?"
"I don't." Jarek shifted in the seat. "But the horse does."
Martin gave him an odd look. "And she told you how long we've got left, did she?"
Jarek laughed, possibly for the first time during the whole trip. "Nah, course not! I was only joking."
But it seemed like a strange sort of joke.
"Do you know what he did?" Jarek said, jerking his chin toward the bundle, whose breathing had gotten louder and ragged.
Martin was still looking at Jarek suspiciously. "No. Didn't ask, and that's the honest truth."
Jarek nodded. "It's best that way."
"The order," Martin said, "came from the prince himself."
This was news to Jarek. Learning this detail made him realize that he had been in a dark mood for the past several hours. Realizing this was like suddenly getting a cramp after sitting too long in one position. And, as a matter of fact, Jarek then thought, he did have a cramp in his lower back.
"You didn't tell me the orders came directly from the prince," he said.
"You didn't ask."
Which was true. Jarek did not ask any questions when Martin, who also took care of the prince's horses, proposed they make a delivery to the village of Okno (with some of the profit going to Jarek, of course). And Jarek did not ask any questions when two castle menservants met him and Martin in the stables, carrying a man who seemed barely conscious, and whose face was wrapped in a bloody bandage.
"Ah, there we are," Martin said, pointing his hand at a nest of buildings. The houses and shops began to distinguish themselves, and the dirt path became the main cobblestone road that ran straight through Okno.
The village looked prosperous. There were several stone houses. The wooden ones were in solid condition, often with pretty patterns of different-colored strips of wood decorating the window frames, many of which had real glass set into them. Shop signs advertised goods: leather tack for horses, books, carpentry, glassworks, and cloth. Women walked by in full, unstained skirts. Even a passing stray dog seemed rather fat for an independent creature. The road turned into a small square whose center was marked by a fountain that was well designed, its water bubbling over three tiers of stone.
Martin dug a parchment out of his jerkin pocket and consulted it. "Turn left here."
"It doesn't make any sense," Jarek mused.
"It doesn't make any sense," Jarek mused.
"I am the one with the map, and you should turn left."
"No, I mean this"--he tilted his head toward the back of the cart--"doesn't make any sense. What could he have done to deserve that kind of punishment, and get sent home instead of being clapped into the nearest jail cell?"