My two very favorite genres are historical fiction and fantasy. I love stepping through the page into another time and place. And of the times and locales that fascinate me, Elizabethan England is certainly one. After reading the Cabinet of Wonders a few weeks ago, I purchased books two and three in the series (did I mention that I love series?). The Celestial Globe and The Jewel of the Kalderash by Marie Rutkoski were also full of globetrotting adventure.
I gulped down book 2 early in the weekend, but was stymied in my progress on book 3. Life and family persisted. When I woke up in the middle of the night, it had nothing to do with the series. But as I lay there I found myself thinking about Petra and her friends. Wondering about what was likely to happen to close out the several open storylines. It was tantalizing. Eventually I gave up, went downstairs, and curled up to finish the remaining 200 pages. I’m a little bleary eyed this morning, but well-satisfied.
The Kronos Chronicles are set in an alternate version of the Hapsburg Empire in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. Petra Kronos, hero of book one, shares the spotlight in the subsequent books. The action alternates between Petra on one hand and her friends Tomik and Neel on the other. In this reality, some people like Petra and her father have magical talents. For those who enjoy modern superhero stories, it’s a little like the X-men, where each individual’s gift is unique. If you’re more of a Harry Potter fan, in the universe of Petra Kronos magical and non magical folk work side by side. Indeed, the value of even ‘common’ people is a theme that resonates through the series. It turns out that not our talents, but our hearts and choices make us who we are.
Rutkoski does a nice job of letting readers into the thoughts of more than one character. Neel’s journey, with its own little twist, mirrors Petra’s in many ways. When one faces a downturn, the other recovers something precious to them. Both doubt who they are and whether they are enough. Both display courage, determination, and a cleverness that transcends wit.
There is a subtle sub-plot in the stories, which I think my 4th and 5th grade readers will mostly ignore. Both Tomik and Neel care a great deal for Petra. And while the friendships remain innocent, there is an undercurrent of romantic, sometimes unrequited, love. Rutkoski keeps it more tender than mushy. For younger readers, it could come across as a simpler friend jealousy.
If you’re looking to add a fantasy series to your shelves, this one has enough action and explosions to please plot-junkies, combined with enough meat and meaning to please thoughtful readers and teachers alike.