The Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet is one of those books that begs to be read. Just look at the cover. It is one of those fantasies that surprises in how grounded in reality it is. There are no journeys to other magical places to fight evil. There is plenty of evil to fight right here.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
On their first day in
Paris, Maya and her little brother, James, find themselves caught up in
some very old magic. Houses with bronze salamanders for door handles,
statues that look too much like Mayas own worried face, a man wearing
sunglasses to hide his radiant purple eyes . . . nothing is what it
seems. And what does all that magic want from Maya?
With the help
of a friendly boy named Valko, Maya discovers surprises hidden in her
family trees brother. And now the shimmering glass Cabinet of Earths, at
the heart of all these secrets, has chosen Maya to be its new Keeper.
she untangles the ties between the Salamander House, the purple-eyed
man, and the Cabinet of Earths, Maya realizes that her own brother may
be in terrible danger. To save him, Maya must take on the magical
underworld of Paris . . . before it is too late.
This book is mostly a book about fear. Fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of letting go of the comfortable. It's themes are perfect for a middle grade novel and Maya's character displays them well. She is a character easy to relate to as she is completely average in every way. Maya longs for her mother to be permanently well, to go back home to where things are familiar, to not have to be such a good sport all the time. The temptations she faces to stray for what is right are realistic without dulling the fast actin of the story. It is love for her brother that propels her actions in the end and as I always love a good sibling story this made be particularly happy. (On a personal note the dynamic between Maya and James reminded me much of the dynamic between my own children so I was particularly concerned for their outcome. My son has the same sort of effect on people as James, and I've seen in my daughter's trying to reconcile always being in her younger brother's shadow the feelings Maya displays in the book. But she loves him ferociously and would go to any lengths to defend him. And he thinks there is no greater person on the planet.) I was quite happy to see how well Maya and James's relationship demonstrated how complicated and devoted sibling relationships can be merely by showing their interactions.
I really enjoyed how the author was dealing with some complex concepts of trust and betrayal, mortality and immortality, inner beauty and outer beauty, science and magic and managed to make it all work on exactly the right level for this story. She never condescends and she only gives as many details as needed to tell the story in this book.
My only one small complaint was that I feel like I still didn't know Valko well by the end of the book. He is Maya's best friend (possibly more?) but their relationship isn't nearly fleshed out as well as the sibling relationship. That may be corrected in the sequel, Box of Gargoyles, due out in 2013.
I was actually quite surprised to discover there would be a sequel as this reads as a stand alone story. Surprised, but very happy indeed.