The Celesital Globe, by Marie Rutkoski (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 304 pages, YA/Upper Middle Grade).
Back in 2008, I enjoyed Marie Rutkoski's first book, The Cabinet of Wonders, very much; so much so that I helped shortlist it for the Cybils that year. So I opened its sequel, The Celestial Globe, with much hopeful anticipation....and was very pleased indeed to find it even more enthralling than the first book. It includes attacking monsters, imprisoned elemental spirits, treachery, nautical adventuring, friendship, fencing lessons, a murder mystery, and my favorite fictional mechanical spider, all in a well-written package.
In The Cabinet of Wonders, Petra and her gypsy friend Neel, with help from a mechanical spider friend, had thwarted the plans of the twisted Prince Rudolfo of Bohemia to take over the world. Neel rejoined his Gypsy kin, Petra returned to her village, and for a brief span it seemed that all was well again.
But as The Celestial Globe begins, the prince has sent monsters to attack Petra and her father. Her father is captured, but Petra escapes, saved by John Dee, the Elizabethan magician with whom she had forged a mind link in the first book. Trying to save her, her village friend Tomick plunges through a hole in space, and finds himself a prisoner of the same gypsies that Neel had joined...
Petra in London chaffs against her virtual imprisonment by the powerful and enigmatic Dee. She is caught up in a web of murder and intrigue, developing her own magical skills under Dee's tutelage. Meanwhile, Tomick's fate hangs in the balance--will he be sold into slavery by the Sea Gypsies, or will he be able to continue his search for Petra? The Gypsies are searching themselves for the Celestial Globe, a magical artifact that would give them the ultimate freedom of travel, and an escape from persecution. And all signs point toward London...where Petra is already at work solving the mystery.
The Celestial Globe is simultaneously epically sweeping and pleasingly detailed. Magics large and small fill the adventures of both Petra and the boys, but do not dominate the plot. Rather, it is the mystery in which the characters are caught that drives the book, a mystery the characters are figuring out along with the reader. And it's a beautifully complex, satisfying tricky story, that doesn't make anything too obvious (although that being said, sometimes I can be rather dense).
I don't think it absolutely necessary to have read The Cabinet of Wonders before reading this one, but, since that is a fine book itself, there's no reason why you wouldn't want to read it first anyway.
(note on age: I was surprised to see this one described as YA over at Amazon; the publisher has it as Grades 5-9, ages 10-14, which I'd say was spot on--there's no sex, although romance might be coming, some growing up but that's not the main point, some violence but not tremendously so).