Saturday, May 16, 2009

Roaming Rondo: The Key to Rondo by Emily Rodda

"Leo! Do you realize that we're fairy tales to these people just like they're fairy tales to us? It's so weird!"

"I know." Leo whispered back. "But, Mimi, that's not all. I think--"

"What?" Mimi asked impatiently.

Leo took a deep breath.

"Mimi," he said, "I think Spoiler--is Wicked Uncle George."

When methodical, cautious Leo inherits an intricately handpainted music box from his Great Aunt Bethany Langlander, he accepts unquestioningly the rules carefully taped to the bottom of the antique keepsake:

Turn the key three times only. Never turn the key while the music is playing. Never pick up the box while the music is playing. Never close the lid until the music has stopped.

Leo is fascinated with the tiny, complex scenes, some visible only with his magnifying glass, inscribed on the box. Searching the tranquil village and woodland scenes, he is horrified to find a detail--a wolf about to pounce upon a sleeping babe--which suggests an evil undercurrent in the placid landscape. But when his moody and impulsive cousin Mimi Langlander comes to visit, she stubbornly breaks all the rules. Winding the key five times, Mimi finds that she has opened a mysterious connection between her world and the world depicted on the music box. To the children's terror, the Blue Queen pictured on the box appears and tries to drag Mimi back into her world. Despite Leo's quick action in stopping the music box's playing, the foiled queen takes Mimi's dog Mutt hostage as she vanishes back into the painting on the box.

Distraught by the frozen scene of Mutt held prisoner in the Blue Queen's arms and vowing to rescue her dog, Mimi vanishes into the mist swirling about the box and in trying to stop her, Leo, too, is drawn into the world of Rondo. There the two children begin a quest to find the Blue Queen's castle, and with the aid of a seemingly powerful ring dropped by the queen, return to the real world with Mutt.

Rondo is a bizarre, enchanted land, filled with kind strangers, strange villains, and fairy tale creatures--trolls, fairies, witches, rampant gingerbread people, and talking animals, including a vain but valiant guard pig named Bertha who joins their quest to overcome the Blue Queen. As they follow adventure through fantastic forests and wasted villages, Leo and Mimi learn that their own family has long moved in and out of Rondo, their deeds changing both the world there and the world back home. They meet two fabled relatives who, without the fabled Key, have long been trapped in Rondo--their greedy Great-Uncle George, who is allied with the Blue Queen, and their kind and heroic Great-Uncle Henry, who helps them complete their quest. There, in a final confrontation with the Blue Queen, Mimi learns that, like Dorothy in Oz, she has had the Key to Rondo in her possession all the time.

Emily Rodda's Key To Rondo is both novel and strangely familiar, borrowing much from well-known fantasy classics and fairy tales. Rodda's writing, however, is so immediate and compelling that the touches of familiar territory seem reassuring and almost inevitable. The complex story begins intriguingly but slowly, but as trust and affection grow between the two cousins, the quest becomes more compelling and tension builds to a satisfying conclusion.

The Aussie queen of fantasy, Rodda continues the story of Rondo in The Wizard of Rondo, published in Australia in October of 2008. Other of her award-winning novels include the Deltora Quest, Deltora Shadowlands, and Rowan of Rin series.

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