Monday, December 31, 2018

The Cabinet of Earths

The Cabinet of Earths
by Anne Nesbet
Recommended Ages: 12+

I didn't realize, when I read it, that A Box of Gargoyles was the sequel to this book. So, I read them out of order, but I don't think it really mattered. In this book, an American girl named Maya moves to Paris for a year with her parents and her adorable little brother James, meets her best friend (a Bulgarian boy named Valko), and finds herself in the middle of a magical plot that has involved several generations of her family. Among the relatives she is surprised to meet in Paris are a distant cousin who is partly invisible and once survived having a church fall on her, a beautiful uncle-cousin named Henri who has violet eyes and peddles a mysterious, addictive substance called anbar, and an eccentric, elderly uncle-cousin named Henri-Pierre who has a cabinet full of bottled earths that calls out to Maya (the cabinet I mean), urging her to become its next keeper.

Something sinister is afoot in Maya's Paris. It has something to do with a group of beautiful kids at her school, led by the Dauphin (or, as Maya calls him, the Dolphin), whose parents look way younger than they are. It has something to do with a witch who, during World War II, gave up on life after one of her sons betrayed the other to the Nazis. It has something to do with a fountain commemorating a series of vanished children who, it turns out, didn't really vanish - not entirely, anyhow. Someone is sucking the charm and liveliness out of Paris' children, and someone is creating a race of immortals, and meantime, Maya is worried that her mother's cancer may have come back. It's a lot for a teenage girl to handle, but when pushed in just the right way, Maya exhibits a steely strength that surprises her as much as the reader.

There is a lot to love about this book. Maya, her parents, James, Valko, and other characters are crisply drawn and subtly developed. Maya's spirit goes right to your heart. The atmosphere teems with magic, mystery, a sense of danger, and a presentiment of horror that mesh well with the scenery of Paris. Pieces of art and architecture play a role in creating a fascinating scenic world. And almost invisibly, like Cousin Louise, author Nesbet establishes a compelling and original style that conveys striking impressions and complex emotions in a truly original, yet seemingly effortless way.

Also by this California-based author and educator are the novels The Wrinkled Crown, Cloud and Wallfish, and The Orphan Band of Springdale, all of which look interesting to me. This was her first novel.

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