The Jewel of the Kalderash: A wholly satisfactory close to the trilogy

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews children Marie Rutkoski Kronos Chronicles The Jewel of the KalderashThe Jewel of the Kalderash by Marie Rutkoski

The Jewel of the Kalderash is the third and final book in the children’s historical fantasy series The Kronos Chronicles by Marie Rutkoski. The first, The Cabinet of Wonders, was excellent (I gave it a strong 4 in my review) and while the second book, The Celestial Globe, wasn’t quite as good, that was mostly due to Cabinet being so strong. The Jewel of the Kalderash, like its predecessor, doesn’t quite reach the quality of The Cabinet of Wonders, but it is quite good — certainly better than much of what I see — and makes for a wholly satisfactory close to the trilogy.

In this final volume, the villainous Prince Rodolfo is quickly and seemingly inevitably moving toward becoming Emperor and cementing his rule over much of Europe, intimidating or killing those who would stand in his way. In preparation, he is also greatly expanding his army of horrific Grey Men, prisoners that he has transformed into brutish, four-legged, bloodthirsty monsters. One of these is Petra’s father and along with trying to stop Rodolfo’s move to consolidate power, she also is desperately seeking a cure to bring her father back. The tug between what is at times these two competing desires — one a purely personal and some might say selfish one, the other a more selfless global concern — is one of the more moving elements of the story. Connected to the same plot point is the tension that always arises when Petra or others face a group of Grey Men and invariably end up having to kill all or some in self-defense — the question of course always being “was one of those killed Petra’s father?”

The book begins with Petra, Astrophil (her mechanical intelligent spider), Tomik (her childhood best friend) and Neel (a recent friend who may become more) arriving at the secret home of Neel’s people, the Roma. Soon Neel’s world is turned upside down and he becomes a person of some influence among the Roma. Eventually, the story splits in two, with Neel remaining among the Roma and trying to unify the four clans that often fight among themselves. Meanwhile, Tomik and Petra leave to try and find the cure for Petra’s father and to try and stop Rodolfo. By the end, of course, the stories come back together.

One of the major strengths of the trilogy has always been the characterization and this is true of The Jewel of the Kalderash as well. Petra has always been a strong, engaging character and that continues here, though she has her expected moments of doubt and fear. Her strength, however, is nicely complex. She doesn’t simply move forward by force of will as one often sees in these kinds of characters; sometimes her strength is portrayed as ill-advised stubbornness, or more movingly, as a trait that keeps her alone. She grows in many ways throughout the series, but one of the best is her slow realization that while she often has had to rely only on herself, that doesn’t mean she always has to. In an earlier book, she was greatly hurt by one she trusted and in this one we see her slowly learn to trust once again. That it turns out to be Neel is not any great spoiler; it is pretty predictable, as is her rejection of Tomik, who has long loved her. So yes, we do have the usual YA triangle here, but it’s understated and handled in a mostly subtle fashion. And if it ends where we expect it to, that isn’t the same as saying neither the journey nor the destination are fully satisfying. Petra, Neel, Tomik, and Astrophil all are distinctive characters one enjoys spending time with. Rutkoski does a nice job with most of the minor characters as well. John Dee returns in his usual maddeningly cool and devious fashion — a character one has a hard time trusting but also disliking. And one who adds some depth due to his seeming philosophy of the ends justify the means — a philosophy well worth pondering. Iris, the woman whose talent is color; Treb, Neel’s cousin; and a few other smaller characters are also sharply drawn despite a lack of page time. The same isn’t true of all. Two nobleborn rebels that Petra and Tomik end up sheltering with are a bit sketchy, which is too bad as they play a major part in the ending. And Rodolfo is somewhat cardboard in his appearance here, though he’s barely present in the book save as the motivating plot force.

It’s a quick-moving plot; I’d say a bit too quick at the end where things felt a little rushed, a little abrupt. Until the end, it’s mostly well paced. At times it’s a bit predictable, and sometimes things fall a little easily into place. The story lacks the rich setting detail of the first book because the characters are moving so much. The novel is more plot-driven than character-driven, with more fight scenes and explosions and a big battle. As the historical and cultural background was one of the things that made me appreciate The Cabinet of Wonders so much, I have to admit I felt its lack here, making The Jewel of the Kalderash still a good book but not quite a great book. But as a whole, I highly recommend the Kronos Chronicles for its rich historical and cultural detail (mostly in the first book and somewhat in the second), its strong central and secondary characters (throughout the series), and for how it satisfyingly brings the story and the characters to a welcome, if not always happy or fully happy, close.

The Kronos Chronicles — (2008-2011) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Petra Kronos has a simple, happy life. But it’s never been ordinary. She has a pet tin spider named Astrophil who likes to hide in her snarled hair and give her advice. Her best friend can trap lightning inside a glass sphere. Petra also has a father in faraway Prague who is able to move metal with his mind. He has been commissioned by the prince of Bohemia to build the world’s finest astronomical clock. Petra’s life is forever changed when, one day, her father returns home — blind. The prince has stolen his eyes, enchanted them, and now wears them. But why? Petra doesn’t know, but she knows this: she will go to Prague, sneak into Salamander Castle, and steal her father’s eyes back. Joining forces with Neel, whose fingers extend into invisible ghosts that pick locks and pockets, Petra finds that many people in the castle are not what they seem, and that her father’s clock has powers capable of destroying their world. This startling debut novel, about the risks we take to protect those we love, brims with magic, political intrigue, and heroism.

1. The Cabinet of Wonders (2008) 2. The Celestial Globe1. The Cabinet of Wonders (2008) 2. The Celestial Globe1. The Cabinet of Wonders (2008) 2. The Celestial Globe 3. The Jewel of the Kalderash

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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