Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Cabinet of Curiosities

I received this book from Bloomsbury, through Becky of The Bookette, who managed to get Bloomsbury Publishing to sponsor the month of February for her British Book Challenge 2011. I received 6 books in the parcel and I am now going to review the first one I read out of the bunch!

The Cabinet of Curiosities by Paul Dowswell
First published by Bloomsbury in 2010 (this edition by Bloomsbury in 2011)

Description: (from
When Lukas Declercq is orphaned, his uncle summons him to Prague, a refuge for Europe’s greatest alchemists and natural philosophers. 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. 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. Soon Lukas discovers 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.

This book was a rather quick and enjoyable read. It tells the story of a boy, Lukas, who is on his way to Prague to join his uncle and train as a physician. He faces many adventures, which begin while he is still on his journey to Prague, and continue throughout the whole time he is living there with his uncle.

As I said before, it was quite a quick book to read. It was quite enjoyable, too, and I did like the book. However, I didn't love it. I think the characters were well-thought out and the story was quite interesting, especially with the inclusion of the Cabinet of Curiosities. From the description inside the book, there seemed to be everything in that Cabinet! Which was more of a series-of-rooms than an actual cabinet. You might wonder how a Cabinet can play such an important role, so as to have the entire book named for it, but it does. Most of the things that happen in the book, either directly or indirectly link back to the Cabinet. (I think I've said the word cabinet one too many times...)

Other than the Cabinet, the book also focused on alchemy (seeing as most physicians at that time were actually alchemists who brewed different concoctions and investigated the properties of ingredients, so as to use them as a way of curing ailments) and the Inquisition. I don't really enjoy books that feature the Spanish Inquisition in them, as there is usually too much violence and too many notions that I find completely and utterly stupid (but which were important to them) but this one was not that bad. Can't really say why, but it wasn't.

There was one character in the book that I did not like: the emperor, Rudolph. From what I saw (after I looked into it a little), Mr. Dowswell has done his research and has pictured him correctly in the book. So my criticism is not for the way the character was developed in the book, but the character in general. He seemed like such a pathetic man. Afraid of everything and desperately seeking to find out the truth about the world. Which is not a condemnable fact in itself (does that sound right?), but it made him the weakest, most pitiable character in the book. It probably came with all the power of the position. Made him feel more vulnerable. I don't really know. Though, having said that, one thing I liked about him was that when he had made a decision, he kept it. Especially ones which were directly connected to the Church.

I didn't mind the author's style of writing. It was by no means fast paced, but it wasn't slow either. A good pace, which is definitely more suited to younger readers. I think I would have enjoyed it a little more, had I read this book when I was younger (which is impossible, but I'm just saying...)

Rating: 6/10

Paul Dowswell is a British author, who has written both fiction and non-fiction books. He worked in publishing for many years and has written a great number of books that have been published by an array of publishers in the UK. His books have also been published outside the UK. His books are mainly historical fiction (he studied History at university) and information books.

Some of his other books include:

Powder Monkey (The Sam Witchall series) ( | Goodreads)

Auslander ( | Goodreads)

Sektion 20 (  | Goodreads)
Sektion 20 is his latest book.
You can find out more about the author here:

Counts as Book #21 in my 100 Books In A Year Challenge and as Book #10 in my British Books Challenge 2011!

(All pictures are from Goodreads)

Reminder: I received this book for free from Bloomsbury, as part of a prize pack. It has not influenced my review in any way.


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