The Celestial Globe by Marie Rutkoski
The Celestial Globe is the second book in Marie Rutkoski’s Kronos Chronicles, following last year’s Cabinet of Wonders, which was a wonderful start with strong characterization, a creative mix of 16th century history and folk tales in service of a compelling plot, and a wonderful sense of both light and grim whimsy. The Celestial Globe isn’t as strong, but it’s a rewarding read in its own right and more than fulfills the purpose of a second book: convincing the reader to stay with the series.
The young girl Petra is back as the central character, along with her several compatriots: a mechanical spider named Astrophil, a young Roma named Neel whose magical gift is “ghost fingers” that invisibly extend his reach, and her long-time best friend Tomik, whose skill involves glass. Also reappearing is the villainous Rudolpho, Prince of Bohemia (who had Petra’s father’s eyes removed in book one) and the much more gray English spy and magician John Dee.
The precipitating event is an attack by Prince Rudolpho’s “Gray Men” on Petra’s home. Saved by Dee via a “Loophole” in space, Petra ends up a semi-prisoner in his London home while he tries to learn just what her magical abilities are while also teaching her how to use/hone them. In due time, Petra finds herself caught up in an investigation into the murders of two of Queen Elizabeth’s most prominent counselors.
Meanwhile, Tomik, in attempting to follow Petra, accidentally walks through the Loophole and ends up captured by Neel, who is sailing with a ship of Roma pirates seeking the title object: The Celestial Globe, which in concert with its twin will allow anyone to find and travel at will through any of a number of Loopholes around the world. Eventually, of course, the characters’ paths will intertwine, but not before all learn more about themselves and the world they move in.
The Celestial Globe shares the same strong characterization from Cabinet of Wonders. Petra, especially, is a fully-fleshed independent young girl whom we enjoy watching mature into an equally independent but somewhat wiser young woman, a process occasioned by the rough tutelage of Dee and the warmer mentorship of Astrophil, along with the grim events that surround and shape her. Astrophil is also sharply drawn, despite being a mechanical spider; while Dee, due to the mystery that surrounds him — his abilities and his motivations — is cloudier but no less compelling a character. Neel and Tomik pale a bit in comparison, mostly because their character development is more predictable and because their storyline is much more plot-centric.
The plot itself is solid: Neel and Tomik’s quest for the Celestial Globe and their attempts to evade those who want it for more inimical ends is, like the progression of their relationship, a bit predictable and plain. Petra’s story is more interesting, more compelling in its development of her character, the complexity of her relationships (with Dee, with Dee’s daughters, with Kit — her current fencing tutor and former spy) and in the development of the murder mystery, which also involves both English and global politics. There’s no doubt the plot lacks the suspense and inventiveness of Cabinet of Wonders, but the expansion into the grander repercussions (Tomik, for instance, immediately recognizes the danger of the Globes/Loopholes as a weapon in the hands of an aggressive ruler) somewhat makes up for the lesser personal suspense, if not the smaller sense of wonder.
The history is deftly handled and not simply woven into the storyline but essential to it, with the introduction of famous historical figures who show up with none of that sense of forced “cameo-like” appearances one sees in lesser historical fiction (whether children’s or adults’).
While I can’t say I enjoyed the more straightforward The Celestial Globe as much as I did the sheer inventiveness of Cabinet of Wonders, it still was an enjoyable read and more than did its job of keeping the reader eager to see what happens next. Recommended.
The Kronos Chronicles — (2008-2011) Ages 9-12. Publisher: 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.
Yep, which is why I'm willing to give a sequel a shot
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