With an alluring setting, a feisty and believable heroine, and resonant language that lingers like dark honey, Anne Nesbet has concocted a potent coming-of-age story with her debut novel, The Cabinet of Earths.
Against her will, 12-year-old Maya Davidson has left her comfortable life in California to accommodate her parents. Of course her dad, a scientist, would accept the one-year offer to work in Paris, even if it comes from the strangely named “Society of Philosophical Chemistry.” After all, her artistic mom has roots in France and longs to spend time there. And who knows how long mom’s cancer will be in remission — if, in fact, it actually is.
Maya doesn’t know the city of Paris, but it seems to know her. Just across from her little brother’s new school, a bronze door handle shaped like a salamander seems to wink at her, and above the door, a carved face eerily resembles her. Inside that strange stone mansion lives a violet-eyed man named Henri de Fourcroy, who, it turns out, is a distant relation, both older and more dangerous than he appears.
What does this elegant man have to do with her dull Cousin Louise, who seems oddly invisible? What makes her brother James so charming? What is the nature of charm and beauty and inheritance? What does freedom entail? Maya’s questions, so attuned to adolescent soul-searching, will lead her to pursue her Parisian roots and will land her before that Cabinet of Earths, glittering with bottles that contain magic rooted in family greed, jealousy, and betrayal. There, in the dark home of another distant relative, who also claims to be Henri de Fourcroy, she beholds glints of her own destiny:
“. . . All at once the world went very still. She was floating; she was underwater: all the room’s sound was replaced by a throbbing hum, light streaking slowly away from everything it touched. She stretched one hand out (the air was as thick as syrup; her arm moved with the slow grace of an aquatic plant) and tried to say something, but her voice was gone, too.
The cabinet itself was calling to her . . .”
Or is her new friend Valko right in assuming she is simply giving free rein to her imagination? The cabinet promises to reveal the source of the youthful appearance of the violet-eyed Henri and of other Parisians. It might also be the key to saving her mom’s life. Unlike the cabinet’s current keeper, will Maya be strong enough to preserve her identity and resist the cabinet’s power?
Inside this jewel of a novel, situated at the intersection of science and magic, you’ll find yourself entranced by its hypnotic, memorable images … its engaging young characters … and by its eloquent exploration of the nature of loss, loveliness, and loyalty.
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