Friday, October 22, 2010

Review: The Cabinet of Curiosities by Paul Dowswell

Review by Scott Wilson
ISBN: 9781408800461
Australian Pub.: August 2010
Edition: 1
Subject: Young adult fiction
Edition Number: 1
Suitable for ages: 12-16

A gripping, fantastical adventure set amongst the intrigue and plotting of the Holy Roman Emperor's court in Sixteenth-Century Prague.


When fourteen-year-old Lukas de Boodt is orphaned, his uncle summons him to Prague, a refuge for Europe's greatest alchemists and natural philosophers, offering to take him on as an apprentice. The uncle is court physician to Rudolf II, the reclusive and unstable Emperor. He is also curator of Rudolf's bizarre Cabinet of Curiosites, four halls stuffed with wonders and scientific marvels such as nails from Noah's Ark, phoenix feathers and monstrous freaks of nature, which fascinate Lukas.

As Rudolf retreats further into his fantasy world, the threat of rebellion hangs in the air. Dorantes, a diplomat from Spain, comes with his daughter, Celestina, on a mission from Philip II to persuade Rudolf to give up his heretical ways. But he discovers the court is full of diplomats who have been waiting months or years for an audience with the Emperor. Dorantes notices how some had wormed their way into the Emperor's favour by presenting him with fantastic gifts for his Cabinet, and sets about creating a device that he says will stop time. But it works only in the presence of the Emperor.

Lukas knows the terrible truth behind Dorantes' mission. But sinister forces have plans for Lukas too, and before he can thwart the plot against the Emperor, Lukas must gamble on Celestina's loyalty in order to save his own life.
Praise for Auslander:

'A heart racing thriller about courage, convictions and the construction of identity' - The Bookseller

'Dowswell is one of the best new writers of historical fiction for children ... [Auslander] steps outside the victim culture of novels such as those by Morris Gleitzman and comes close to classics such as The Silver Sword. Admirers of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas should look at this novel as a model of imaginative sympathy' - The Times

'Auslander is a superlative, at times almost agonisingly compelling, piece of historical fiction ... The climactic escape to freedom is pure muck-sweat tension' - The Financial Times

About Paul Dowswell

A former senior editor with Usborne Publishing, Paul Dowswell is now a full-time author. He has written many non-fiction titles, two of which were shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award. Powder Monkey, his first novel, was published to huge critical acclaim as the first title in his exceptional Sam Witchall trilogy. Paul lives in Wolverhampton with his family.

Review by Scott Wilson

The novel has an interesting beginning with Lukas Declercq and Etienne and Lambert brought together by misfortune, or by fate, however you would like to see it. As unlikely travelling companions, they encounter severe hostility on their journey to Prague.

There is enough mystery and intrigue to keep the reader enthralled by the journey that begins planning and slowly turns into an almighty adventure. The story is set in the time of Bohemian Emperor Rudolph the second.

We follow through the traumatic events of Lukas and Etienne, which are extremely well potrayed and at times very disturbing with regular torture and death. This absorbs the reader; placing them on the very edge of tension until the end.
Scattered throughout the story are graphic and comprehensive, historical details that keep the reader interested and compelled to read on to become educated in the history lacing the story.

For lovers of historical fiction, you will find this one worth the read and it does have the possibility of a sequel, so let’s hope.

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