Anne Nesbet’s “The Cabinet of Earths” starts with a little magic, a little science, and a lot of family secrets. Like many fantasy books aimed at the 10-and-up crowd, the book follows a bit of a formula; one where pieces of a mystery unfold and lead in different directions until the reader can put together what is really happening. However, who can deny that this formula can be exciting? That, if done correctly, it can make you want to keep turning the pages? This is the case with Nesbet’s book–the formula may be similar to other tales, but the events in the story feel fresh.
“The Cabinet of Earths” is told from the limited third-person view of Maya Davidson, a 12-year-old American who has just moved with her cancer-survivor mother, scientist father, and younger brother James to Paris. Her father receives a fellowship with the prestigious Society of Philosophical Chemistry, and the Davidson family quickly relocates to France. Upon arriving, Maya begins to meet an interesting combination of people–a Bulgarian friend named Valko, a mysterious older man, a young man with purple eyes, and a cousin who Maya swears appears invisible at times. Curious enough, she soon finds that the older man and the purple-eyed man are related, and both share the same name, Henri Fourcroy. Even more shocking, Maya learns she is distantly related to both of them.
The older Fourcroy claims to be the keeper of the Cabinet of Earths, a strange bureau full of vials that seem to possess magical powers. The younger one also appears to be the keeper of magic, for his house is full of a mystical substance called anbar, which Maya believes holds healing properties. Maya feels like the older Fourcroy’s Cabinet of Earths calls out to her, as if it wants something from her. At the same time, the younger Fourcroy has taken an interested in Maya’s brother. But nothing is as it seems, and the human struggle between mortality and immortality become mixed-up with family ties and breaks, magic, and science. Most importantly, Maya soon becomes responsible for trying to save her younger brother and keep her sick mother well.
Nesbet’s writing is strong–although her book is for younger readers, she doesn’t make her language too overly simplistic or cutesy. The book has some darker moments, but the story doesn’t end in a devastating way. As someone who is well beyond the 10-year-old range, I found the book to be exciting enough to hold my interest. Reading it felt very much like watching a kid’s movie with a good plot-line; if the story is interesting, the intended age of the audience becomes less important. I would recommend this novel to anyone, 10 and up, who wants to add a little bit of magic into their life.
“The Cabinet of Earths” is author Anne Nesbet’s first novel.