Release Date: 07/02/11
When Lukas Declercq 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. Uncle Anselmus is court physician to Rudolph II, the reclusive and unstable Emperor. He is also curator of Rudolph's bizarre Cabinet of Curiosities, a series of vast rooms stuffed with wonders and scientific marvels such as a nail from Noah's Ark, phoenix feathers and monstrous freaks of nature, which fascinate Lukas. As Rudolph 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 Rudolph 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's 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.
Historical fiction is a tough gig for a young adult writer and an even tougher one to get right. After all you have to get a lot of detail right and back it up with enough of a plotline to get away without major info dumps to the reader. What Paul Dowswell does extremely well in this book is hook the reader in the first few pages and manages to bring a familiarity alongside a principle hero to the fore that the reader cannot help but like and enjoy his exploits as the world (as well as timeline) in which he lives is explored with eyes of wonderment.
It is was written, the characters crisp and above all else it’s a tale that will only hook more readers in with its friendly writing style, great prose and a wonderful almost magical style that allows some authorly slight of hand that the reader won’t believe they’ve missed by the titles conclusion. A great read and a book that will definitely have me seeking out more by this author.