All you have to do to get me to read a book is set it in Prague. There's something so . . . storied about the city: mysterious and old and intricate and artistic and layered . . . Endlessly fascinating!
When I visited Prague several years ago, we went to the famous astronomical clock in Old Town Square. We were told a legend that the prince who commissioned the clock then blinded the creator so he would never create anything so wonderful again. It was a pretty cool clock (though I don't seem to have taken a picture of it; here's a blog with a pic and some description), but the story was what I remembered.
So when I read the description of The Cabinet of Wonders, and found out it starts when the clockmaker returns home without his eyes, and there's something magical about those eyes (and about the clock he made), so his daughter decides to go get the eyes back and stop the prince from doing something nefarious with the magical clock--well, I had to read it. And the book is every bit as cool and wonderful as I could have hoped!
It has fun magic and fascinating gadgets, an intrepid heroine and a useful sidekick with a conflicting agenda, a creepy nasty villain, gypsies (the Roma), a pet tin spider, and the odd real historical detail to give those in the know a little thrill of recognition (John Dee, anyone?). It's not exactly steampunk but it has everything I like about steampunk (did I mention gadgets? and alternate history?).
It's middle-grade so it's short and fast-paced, but the plot is intricate and the characters are well-developed. And I just loved the world!
I'll definitely be looking for the next installment in the Kronos Chronicles.
The Cabinet of Wonders is these delicious pancakes that I invented: slice up a pear, fry it in butter, make your favourite buttermilk pancake batter and pour it on top the sauteed pears (be careful when you flip them over; the pears tend to fall off). Absolutely delicious, totally easy, and makes me feel terribly clever for having invented them!
For more Marvelous Middle-Grade books to muse about this week, mosey over to Shannon Messenger's magnificent blog.